Silver by Chris Hammer, Allen & Unwin, 2019, ISBN 978 1 76063 299 1, 563pp A review by Trevor Moore
I reviewed Hammer’s last book Scrublands in these pages and I found it to be good. So good in fact that I went along to one of Moruya Books “meet the author” lunches at the Waterfront. I found the author to be an engaging fellow and decided that I should look forward to his next book. It has now arrived, it is called Silver, I have read it and it is every bit as enjoyable as the last one. But it is different to its predecessor: this one is more of a slow burn. Hammer has used the same protagonist as before. Martin Scarsden is a slightly self-absorbed and satisfying imperfect man who was fired from his newspaper job in the last book. His partner, who he met in that last book, is the apparently stunningly attractive Mandalay Blonde. And even if she is not stunningly attractive, the name is pretty good. It’s a dead cert that the Scarsden character is autobiographical but possibly more in the imagination than in fact. Who knows? And I hesitate to pass judgement on any author.
The plot or, more accurately, the plots unfold over the eight days between one Monday and the Tuesday of the following week. But some days are busier than others. The middle days weigh in at 100 odd pages each while the last day is 8 pages. Of course, by the end, he’s just wrapping it all up and assuring us that everyone lives more or less happily ever after, the bad guys get their due and he’s set himself up for the sequel. The story is, like Scrublands , a set of tightly interwoven subplots and it unwinds slowly reaching a crescendo about three parts of the way though. Perhaps it unwinds a little too slowly, as after the discovery of a dead body in the first 10 pages I found myself wondering where it was all going. The author helpfully provides us with a map of the main locations in the book which is set in the imaginary NSW towns of Silver and Longton. I found the map useful because there is a lot of topographical detail. There is also a significant cast of characters.
The simple and basic plot is that Scarsden arrives in Silver, which is where he was brought up, and heads to Mandalay’s house. When he gets there, he finds that all is not well. There is a dead body in her front room, she is there with blood on her hands and she becomes the prime suspect in the murder. Scarsden sets out to find out what happened. The murder is not the only crime. There is a second crime, and this begins to bring things together. And there are a lot of things to bring together. Hammer, as I suppose befits a former journalist, is not short on detail. This is a book that is intricately crafted and while you might criticise it for being just a little too intricate, I think that would be churlish. The level of planning that must have gone into its writing is to be admired and wondered at. And, of course, an author who is a journalist could only produce great prose. Hammer certainly writes for his readers which is perhaps an obvious requirement for an author but not one that is always met. I think perhaps of Proust – and this is not Proust.
I have no doubt that Janice at Moruya Books will be piling copies of Silver high on her shelves and you could do worse than to check in with her and relieve her of one for yourself and one as a present for someone else. In spite of the detail it’s an easy read, less of a page turner than Scrublands but the advantage of that is that you can put the book down, turn out the light and get a decent night’s sleep.