Book review: Trust by Chris Hammer

Thursday, October 15, 2020 Permalink

Trust is the third novel by former journalist Chris Hammer. If you’ve sufficient time on your hands you can check out my reviews of Scrublands (2018) and Silver (2019).

Because of Hammer’s own background he’s effortlessly able to instil a realism in his lead, investigative journalist Martin Scarsden. It reveals itself in everything from the way Scarsden has strange memorabilia from warzones around his old apartment, to the way he’s able to find information from sources at the drop of a hat, to the instinctive hunt when he’s on a case.

Hammer’s first two novels featuring Scarsden and his girlfriend Mandalay Blonde were both set in small towns, his latest however Trust marks a return to Sydney, organised crime and corporate corruption.

Book review: Trust by Chris HammerTrust
by Chris Hammer
Series: Martin Scarsden #3
Published by Allen & Unwin
on 13/10/2020
Source: Allen & Unwin
Genres: Thriller / Suspense
ISBN: 9781760877415
Pages: 480

Martin Scarsden's new life seems perfect, right up until the moment it's shattered by a voicemail: a single scream, abruptly cut off, from his partner Mandalay Blonde.

Racing home, he finds an unconscious man sprawled on the floor and Mandy gone. Someone has abducted her. But who, and why?

So starts a twisting tale of intrigue and danger, as Martin probes the past of the woman he loves, a woman who has buried her former life so deep she has never mentioned it.

And for the first time, Mandy finds denial impossible, now the body of a mystery man has been discovered, a man whose name she doesn't know, a man she was engaged to marry when he died. It's time to face her demons once and for all; it's time she learned how to trust.

As a reader I’m probably less interested in white collar crime than I am that involving deep-seated psychopathology.  Of course here the line isn’t drawn at niceties of tax evasion and money laundering but Hammer throws in some macabre murders for good measure.

Trust features Mandy more than I recall the previous novels doing and a lot of the narrative unfolds from her point of view.

In Silver, Martin felt a sense of uncertainty about his relationship with Mandy. He loved her but felt they really didn’t know each other well, despite (or in spite of) the traumatic events bringing them together in Scrublands. They don’t seem to have progressed a lot here. They’ve been together eighteen months and Martin’s a devoted father to Mandy’s toddler, but there’s still a sense of ‘How well do I know this person?‘. Mandy’s now wealthy and beautiful so Martin seems to struggle with a sense of imposter syndrome.

Because we’re in Mandy’s head here we learn that she knows she has notoriously bad taste in men and she’s concerned Martin might be another in the line of mistakes she’s made. We’re privy to those thoughts so know she doesn’t believe him to be intending to hurt her in any way. It’s an internal battle however and she tries to believe she can trust and rely on him.

As the title would suggest, (trust) is certainly required here and I liked that Hammer doesn’t stuff around having the pair wary of each other and quibble about information-sharing and secrets because they work this case together.

Regular readers of my reviews know I get grumpy when disparate investigations end up being related, but it’s not the case here as there are links from the beginning. They’ve each got a stake – with Mandy’s former fiancee’s body being found after many years and Martin’s former boss murdered in a way that sends a message. I enjoyed the way this came together and the tie between the cases wasn’t nebulous or overly contrived.

Again I enjoyed Hammer’s effortless prose, particularly when it comes to scene-setting. The novel kicks off in coastal News South Wales so we get a glimpse of the results of last year’s bushfires….

The road continues, the traffic sparse, the day calm. Then, abruptly, the eucalypt forest changes from khaki to more emphatic tones: black trunks wrapped in bright green foliage, recovering from the bushfires of summer. But the ground is still white ash, the undergrowth slow to regenerate. Maybe it’s waiting for spring, maybe it’s waiting for rain. p 40

And then we head to Sydney.

The street is both familiar and unfamiliar, the footpath widened from when he first bought his apartment here fifteen years ago, the boutiques and cafes and noodle bars seemingly never-changing, new entries emerging from the bankruptcies of corona, the remaining pubs evolving further and further from their workers’ origins. p 43

The latter particularly, reminds me that descriptive prose doesn’t have to be flooded with adjectives and words of many syllables, but instead builds a vivid sense of place.

Things become a little complicated as this book nears its end. Perhaps overly so. The unfolding plot was easy to follow but there are a couple of elements that could contribute to readers’ attention becoming a little diluted. It was interesting however to see the bad guys’ adamance that they only wanted to take blame for the stuff they did and nothing more… not to mention the fact they refrain from killing on many occasions when they could easily do so.

I have to say I warmed to Mandy a bit more here and we learn more about her past. Again I was happy to see Martin and feel like he seems like a decent human being as well as a likeable and engaging character. Not to mention a dogged investigator.

In the last novel Martin had returned to his childhood hometown but here he’s returned to a place he spent early / defining years of his career—a place I suspect he thought of as ‘home’—and there’s a strong sense of change. He ponders the newspaper industry, remembering waiting for delivery trucks to see his writing in print for example, but I like that he seems to accept that things have moved on and realises he has to as well.

I’ve read a few series lately that have only comprised three novels and become a trilogy – and I hope that isn’t the case here.

Trust by Chris Hammer was published in Australia by Allen & Unwin and is now available.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes. I’m also participating in a blog tour promoting the novel, so would suggest you check out some of the other posts, interviews and giveaways. 


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