This marvellous police thriller has more twists and turns than a mountain-climbing switchback road. But we’re not headed up a mountain. We’re headed out to opal country. Hot, dry, dangerous, desolate, sometimes lawless. The book’s cover designer Luke Causby has captured the mood of the novel – dark, foreboding, a lone man walking into the distance as his long shadow stretches over the parched land. Yup. That’s the mood of Treasure & Dirt.
In about 165,000 words, this outback thriller has it all. Good cops, bad cops, good miners, ratty miners, rare opals, rubbish opals. International intrigue where Chinese investors wrestle with Australian moguls. Political pressure as the America wants to stop China from cornering the market in rare earths. Religious intrigue as a fanatical sect destroys vulnerable locals. Just as you think there can’t possibly be another intrigue or a new complication, there is! And it’s all plausible, very overly-coincidental, but totally gripping. You just have to keep reading. You have to know if the good guys win.
Chris Hammer’s description of everything from how small opal mines operate to how to make billions by short selling on the ASX shows he has done his research and has the experience to craft thrillers brilliantly. Chris was a journalist covering Australian federal politics and international affairs. As a repoter for SBS’s Dateline he travelled to over thirty countries. His two previous novels, Trust (set in Sydney) and Scrublands (in the Outback) have won many awards. He is a top thriller novelist. You feel you are in the heat and dust of the raggedy impoverished opal town. You feel the detective’s fear of the police internal investigator. You feel the horror at the possibility the bad guys may get away with murder.
The novel starts out with the only horrific scene – thieves discover the body of a miner nailed to a roughly made cross at the bottom of his mine shaft. He’s been crucified. From there, you know the journey will be to discover ‘who done it’. And we do, enjoying the twists and turns all the way through. Hammer’s description of the foibles and strengths of locals, the police, the moguls and the other characters embed you in the intrigue. You’re there. You’re sweating. You’re scared. You are solving the mystery, too.
What a great read for summer, for lockdown, for anytime.
Chris Hammer : Treasure and Dirt
Release date: September 28
Published by Allen &Unwin
Cover design Luke Causby (Blue Cork)