Book Review ‘Trust’ by Chris Hammer

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“Millie the Money Box” from Westpac Bank in conjunction with Sydney Olympic Games 2000. Used for illustration purposes only. My tie-in with the crime novel “Trust” which involves a bank and lost millions. Millie is not only memorabilia, she once held pocket money in the form of 50cent pieces. I wonder if coins, pocket money and piggy banks will exist in the future? © Gretchen Bernet-Ward 2020

—Review—

Martin Scarsden is the central character but in “Trust” he shared the limelight.  His girlfriend Mandalay Blonde’s story was just as valid as Martin’s but I found events lacked drama when it came to poor-girl-makes-good-gets-stuck.  She did get her act together when a group discussion propelled her into action.  Unbeknown to Mandy she would soon face major problems from an old-boy network, creepy co-worker, money laundering and large scale corruption.  Two major questions swirled around Mandy regarding her former fiancé and her place of employment, viz, “What was Tarquin Molloy playing at?” and “Where are Mollisons missing millions?”

Backstory is not the story and I started to lose interest in author Chris Hammer’s exposé on Mandalay and her stressful life.  She arrived in Sydney and quote “She wants to flee, to get back to her son, to protect him.  And yet the past is coming, it’s here, she can’t carry it back to Port Silver; she can’t risk it getting a trace of her boy…”  The ship had sailed on that one.  In previous books, she and Martin were in the media, the talk of the town, easily found by adversary Zelda Forshaw.

Halfway in, I wanted to shake up the action and indirectly Mandy obliged even though she was on an emotional rollercoaster.  She met a dodgy cop in a dingy café in a tunnel under Central Railway station without a companion, without telling anyone where she was going.  I said “Organised crime, Mandy, people were being murdered!”  Thus the script-writing elements showed with Chris Hammer’s talking heads and scene-setting rather than people who moved through their surroundings.  Ancillary characters were great, from the homeless to corporate high-flyers, a computer geek to a retro assassin and, of course, ruthless newspaper men. 

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Anomalies were Australian judge Elizabeth Torbett with Tory politics; Martin, a seasoned journo who relied on technology and a laptop but made novice mistakes; Mandy did not regularly check on son Liam in Port Silver; Martin had coffee with Montifore in Chapter 33 but “Goffing returns with the drinks…” Oops.

“Trust” the perfect title, and Chapter 28 and Chapter 29 alone were worth the price of the book.  Martin visited Justice Clarence O’Toole of the New South Wales Land and Environment Court and asked him a few questions.  The old judge was very ill but talked at length about his membership with The Mess, a private club, and the sudden death of Martin’s mentor and friend.  Afterwards Martin thought about his journalistic career and the slow agonising demise of print newspapers.  I went straight out and bought an edition of The Courier Mail.

Chris Hammer future-proofed his crime novel with coronavirus, and mentioned the pandemic several times, but it flopped for me.  Covid-19 was not over when I read the book.  At this point in time, Sydney still has coronavirus outbreaks and restrictions.  “Wash your hands, wear a mask, keep your distance”.

Martin and Mandy’s ordeal took place over seven days and I would not have enjoyed being in their shoes, but I enjoyed the Australian setting and frontispiece map of Sydney.  There was a wonderful iffy, dicey feel to the plot which at times stretched tropes and credibility, like the ASIO meet-up, or the dance of death, however a clever twist enhanced the story and the ending was unexpected.  On the whole, I liked this third instalment, quote “some huge story, some grand conspiracy” so cheers to more books and great reading in 2021 New Year.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

“Smartphones on and life-cancelling earbuds in”

From Trust Martin Scarsden crime series
by Chris Hammer 2020

J.M. Peace Aussie Cop Crime Writer

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Book 1—Review ‘A Time to Run’
by J M Peace

Sammi Willis is a police officer, written by a genuine police officer, so I figured the action would be authentic and the plot would be an absorbing and gripping read.  It is all that and more!  Told in real time, I counted the logbook minutes and followed police procedure to find out where Sammi had gone.  She left a suburban pub alone at night and accepted a lift back to her girlfriend’s house but never arrived.  The tension is controlled until gradually the stress levels rise and events ramp up: Sammi hasn’t contacted her partner or family and misses her work shift.  It doesn’t take much to realise that something is very wrong.

Meanwhile, the reader has access to the other side of the story––Sammi’s ordeal.  It is hard to describe what she goes through without taking some of the element of fear away for potential readers.  Sammi is made powerless in the hands of a brutal man who has killed before.  She knows she must fight cleverly to save her life, but without proper clothing, food or knowledge of her bushland location, she faces an uphill battle to survive.  Every painful step Sammi takes, every thought and emotion is totally believable. She goes through bouts of logic and hallucination while the armed madman follows her progress on his trail bike.

Waiting back at Angel’s Crossing, Sammi’s partner Gavin and her friend Candy are distraught and not coping well, but Criminal Investigation Branch reinforcements arrive in the form of go-getter Janine Postlewaite.  That’s all I am going to say, except read this book and appreciate excellent Australian crime writing.  There are two books which follow this one, I have read “The Twisted Knot” and will soon read “An Unwatched Minute”.  J. M. Peace highlights just how good, and how different, Aussie writers are at setting the scene with strong characters and electrifying content.  I was hooked from beginning to end. 

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

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Book 2—Review ‘The Twisted Knot’
by J M Peace

Written by a real police officer, gritty and unashamedly Australian, this story has twists and turns I did not see coming.  The big question is ‘Who committed what crime?” and at first I thought I knew, but the plot had a surprise in store.  A police procedural with no gimmicks, no generic dialogue but plenty of believable characters and a nasty bundle of suspects.  Constable Samantha (Sammi) Willis of Angel’s Crossing police station is in the thick of the action, handling vengeful townsfolk when paedophile rumours surface, while privately juggling her shaky marriage.

Sammi is also recovering from a near death experience with a maniac who killed for fun (see “A Time to Run” the first Sammi book by J. M. Peace) but she is ably supported by her colleagues, particularly by-the-book Bob.  Gradually she gets back into routine and Sammi leaves the front desk to attend a call-out.  It turns into a gruesome find in a farmhouse shed.  The identity and cause of death is in doubt and Terry Cousens, a Plain Clothes Constable, takes the lead rein, eager for a quick promotion.

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Fortunately Sammi knows the rural town and handles proceedings well, but Terry does not.  He also has an interesting run-in with Jeremy from Forensics. The police detective work is substantial, and the daily routine of a police station is well portrayed.  Nothing hit-and-miss, everything is methodical and eventually the clues and forensic samples compile a clear picture of what happened.  Or do they?  The reader gets snippets, sometimes from wives and mothers, and sometimes from an unknown narrator but I found it hard to pick a culprit.

Naturally, in this type of crime novel there are disturbing scenes, paedophilia and swearing.  However, I think that J. M. Peace has hit the right note.  It would be great to see her get more international recognition. I think she has the potential to grow a following like Garry Disher. With Hirsch in rural South Australia, there could be someone like Sammi in rural Queensland with the bonus of Peace’s insider knowledge.  I’ve read “A Time to Run” and I’m keen to read “An Unwatched Minute” a recent book.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

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Book 3—‘An Unwatched Minute’
by J M Peace

My review is yet to come, but here are excerpts taken from the J. M. Peace author website:

‘An Unwatched Minute’ goes behind the scenes of a small police station in the picturesque town of Tannin Bay.

When Constable Krista Danaher is transferred to the picturesque town of Tannin Bay she hopes it may help her gain much needed confidence in her new profession. She’s pleased when Senior Constable Malachi ‘Mort’ Morten takes her under his wing, both professionally and personally. But within days, a man has died in the watch house whilst in her care, triggering an intensive police investigation. It becomes apparent that not everyone is telling the truth and the gap between what happened and what the investigation can prove widens. The family of the dead man do whatever they can to make sure someone is held accountable. The police response will have far-reaching consequences on the small police station and the people who work there.

An Unwatched Minute’ is a gripping and realistic thriller, which shines a light on the grey spot where truth and justice meet.


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Author Info

An avid reader and writer from an early age, J. M. Peace wanted to be a writer. So she studied journalism figuring this would be a way of turning a passion into a job. Her career as a print journalist failed after a single year… so she took a complete change of direction and became a police officer. Over the past twenty years, she has served throughout south-east Queensland in a variety of different capacities, including Intelligence and CIB.

An award-winning author, Jay lives on the Sunshine Coast (Queensland) with her partner, wrangling her two cheeky children, a badly behaved dog and an anti-social cockatiel… You can connect with Jay on Facebook at JM Peace Author, Twitter at @jmpeaceauthor, Goodreads at JM Peace, and her blog ‘Cops and Novels’.

NOTE:A Time To Run’ was published by Pan Macmillan Australia on July 2015. The sequel ‘The Twisted Knot’ was released on July 2016. ‘A Time To Run’ was translated into German as ‘Die Hatz’ and Spanish as ‘La Cacería’.  Standalone novel An Unwatched Minute’ was released on Amazon/Kindle on May 2019.

Peter Corris Crime Writer Cliff Hardy Crime Fighter

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The final Peter Corris crime novel featuring PI Cliff Hardy.

A few years ago I was going through a rough patch in my professional and personal life.  I wanted to close the door and read, read, read myself back to normality.

Search and ye shall read

The trouble was I hadn’t seriously knuckled down and read a well-written book for a long time.  I felt distanced from northern hemisphere writers (what’s snow?) and never really got the whole Scandi-noir buzz.  Several genres, including the ambiguous literary fiction, didn’t hold my interest.  I felt I needed comedy, something I could relate to and laugh at.  Also I wanted characters and places I understood, and possibly had visited.

Readers of my blog will know I like quirky writing so, rather than reach for self-help books, I began to search for way-out humour on the library shelves.  Unfortunately back then humorous Australian writers were thin on the ground so I hung around the bookshops until the next Thursday Next dilemma or Ankh-Morpork debacle was published.  Yes, Messrs Fforde and Pratchett saved my sanity with their insane books.

From comedy to crime

After trial and error, and iffy recommendations from friends, I discovered Australian crime writers.  The good old Aussie turn-of-phrase drags me in every time.  I know the cities, the vast distances between those cities, the weather, the beaches, the Great Dividing Range, the smell of gum trees and especially the food.  Our food is a mish-mash of many cultures but in there somewhere is real Aussie tucker and nobody does a Chiko Roll or TimTam like we do.  And our criminals are a bit special too.

I read in no particular order (and by no means all our contemporary crime writers) Garry Disher, Kerry Greenwood, Peter Temple, Leigh Redhead, Geoffrey McGeachin, Jane Harper, Robert G. Barrett, Honey Brown, Matthew Condon, Emma Viskic, Adrian McKinty (adopted Irishman) Candice Fox, Shane Maloney, Barry Maitland, Michael Robotham and my absolute all-time favourite, the iconic Peter Corris.

Peter Corris 04And Peter Corris came with Sydney private investigator Cliff Hardy

Peter Robert Corris (8 May 1942 – 30 August 2018) was an Australian academic, historian, journalist, biographer and novelist of historical and crime fiction.  As a crime fiction writer, he was described as “the Godfather of contemporary Australian crime-writing”.  After writing 42 books in his PI Cliff Hardy series, from 1980 to 2017, Corris announced in January 2017 that he would no longer be writing novels owing to “creeping blindness” because of type-1 diabetes and passed away the next year.

Naturally I was saddened to learn of his death but it hit me in another way.  I never wrote and told him how his Cliff Hardy books lead me into the badlands and showed me that my life was all right.  Well, in comparison to the criminal underworld Hardy inhabited.  Despite the sleaze, the drugs, the murder, Hardy had his own set of morals, he was a good judge of character and played fair.  However, he knew how to defend himself and fought hard when necessary.  Forget that it’s fiction.  Compared to his daily grind, I had nothing to worry about.

As Bowie said Ch-ch-ch-Changes

These Corris crime novels also documented a changing way of life through Hardy, especially the Sydney cityscape and his beloved Newtown.  For nearly 40 years, semi-permanent characters came and went, and mobile phones and laptops took hold.  High tech digital devices and spyware increased; electronic locks, security cameras and internet surveillance replaced skeleton keys and good old shoulder-to-the-door.  I feel the loss of a metal filing cabinet, its papers viewed by torchlight in the middle of the night.

But through it all, Corris always managed to side-step technology, keeping Hardy real, doing the leg work, nailing the bad guy.  His astute observations of human nature, and how he wrote plausible characters, made me feel I’d just met a crooked barrister or a smarmy crime baron.

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The book on the right is one of my favourites.  Recognise the bridge?  These days I do read more widely but I’m missing my yearly dose of hard-boiled Hardy—to use Corris’ own description.

Below I have listed all the Cliff Hardy books even though it doesn’t have the visual appeal of the bookcovers.  If you wish to check out more about each story, please visit Allen & Unwin Publishers website:

https://www.allenandunwin.com/authors/c/peter-corris

But—do authors and their books really die?

There could be reprints, anniversary issue, possible screenplay, theatre adaptation, prequel, or Grandson of Hardy for younger readers.  I won’t give away the ending of the last book because I expect you to BINGE READ the complete oeuvre, then see for yourself whether or not you like Cliff Hardy’s final installment.

My sincere condolences to Jean Bedford, wife of Peter Corris, and his family.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


PI Cliff Hardy book series

The Dying Trade        (1980)
White Meat                 (1981)
The Marvelous Boy   (1982)
The Empty Beach      (1983)
Heroin Annie and Other Cliff Hardy Stories (1984)
The Big Drop and Other Cliff Hardy Stories  (1985)
Make Me Rich             (1985)
The Greenwich Apartments (1986)
Deal Me Out                (1986)
The January Zone      (1987)
The Man in the Shadows: Cliff Hardy Omnibus (1988)
O’Fear                          (1990)
Wet Graves                 (1991)
Aftershock                  (1992)
Beware of the Dog    (1992)
Burn and Other Stories (1993)
Matrimonial Causes (1993)
Casino                          (1994)
The Reward                (1997)
The Washington Club (1997)
Forget Me If You Can  (1997)
The Black Prince         (1998)
The Other Side of Sorrow (1999)
Lugarno                        (2001)
Salt and Blood             (2002)
Master’s Mates            (2003)
Taking Care of Business (2004)
The Coast Road           (2004)
Saving Billie                (2005)
The Undertow             (2007)
Appeal Denied            (2008)
The Big Score: Cliff Hardy Cases (2008)
Open File                      (2009)
Deep Water                  (2009)
Torn Apart                   (2010)
Follow the Money       (2011)
Comeback                     (2012)
The Dunbar Case         (2013)
Silent Kill                      (2014)
Gun Control                 (2015)
That Empty Feeling    (2016)
Win, Lose or Draw     (2017)

NOTE: “See You at the Toxteth” Published by Allen & Unwin August 2019
https://www.allenandunwin.com/browse/books/fiction/See-You-at-the-Toxteth-Peter-Corris-9781760875633
A selection of stories compiled by Jean Bedford featuring Australia’s favourite PI, plus unpublished writing by Peter Corris on crime.

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The first Peter Corris crime novel featuring PI Cliff Hardy.