Booklist Reviews 2018 November #2
A novel's opening moments are there to rivet readers' attention; this one begins with a dazzler. A parish priest stands outside his little church in the heat-soaked Australian scrublands on a Sunday morning, chatting with parishioners. He steps inside for a moment, comes back with a rifle and blows away five members of his congregation. Readers who turn pages anxious for understanding will have to wait. Instead, the narrative picks up a year later, as reporter Martin Scarsden visits the dusty, dying town where the murders took place. He's not there to investigate the still-unsolved crime but to write about how everybody is holding up. His poking about reveals a hidden marijuana farm, a plot to steal water, and a murder tricked up to look like suicide, with only occasional references to the slaughter that started the novel. This story is a mix of beautiful writing and a maddeningly slow, overly complex plot. Still, we're hooked. Who is this priest who can put a bullet through a man's neck at a hundred yards? Copyright 2018 Booklist Reviews.
LJ Reviews 2019 January #1
A year after a tragedy involving an Anglican priest, journalist Martin Scarsden arrives in Riversend, Australia, to tell the story of the small town. He discovers a dying community facing drought and economic disaster while fighting the impressions of the outside world. Martin attempts to dig deeper but faces opposition, anger, and stories that contradict one another. Was the priest a pedophile? Was he a saint or a sinner? Are the police even telling the truth? Identities are uncovered, and even old tramps are not who they appear to be. Dealing with his own war zone-induced PTSD, Martin also encounters an entire town suffering from the trauma resulting from the priest's actions, bushfires, and a fatal car accident. Father Byron Swift's secrets have already changed so many lives; they will also alter Martin's.
PW Reviews 2018 November #3
Sydney journalist Martin Scarsden, the hero of Australian author Hammer's stellar first novel, is still recuperating from a traumatic experience while covering a story in the Middle East when he's sent to Riversend to write an article about how the people of the drought-stricken town are coping one year after Byron Swift, a local priest, inexplicably shot down five men in cold blood outside his church one Sunday morning. Martin first stops at a bookstore, where he meets its beautiful owner, Mandalay Blonde, who's struggling to come to grips with a painful past. Mandy insists that Byron, who was killed by a cop shortly after he committed his horrific crime, was a decent man who treated her and her late mother kindly, not the child abuser some believed him to be. Mandy urges Martin to try to find out why he did it. Martin learns after talking to others that more tragedies may be connected with the mass murder. The stakes rise when Martin breaks a journalist's fundamental rule by becoming part of the story, which turns out to be a "heady mix of murder, religion, and sex," as Martin comes to realize. Richly descriptive writing coupled with deeply developed characters, relentless pacing, and a bombshell-laden plot make this whodunit virtually impossible to put down.