14 November 2023

Chris Hammer gets away with murder in the Riverina with his latest novel and TV debut

| Chris Roe
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Chris Hammer’s sixth novel is titled The Seven. Photo: Supplied.

Canberra crime writer Chris Hammer can’t quite believe his good fortune.

With his sixth novel, The Seven, hitting the shelves last month and the TV adaptation of his first novel, Scrublands, debuting on Stan next week, the former journalist is now an international success.

“Before Scrublands, I’d written two nonfiction books, and while they were well received, I didn’t really sell any,” he said, reflecting on a whirlwind six years.

“So by the time I’d finished the first novel, I thought it might get published, I’d have a book launch where everyone told me how good it was, and then the next day I’d go back to my normal job.

“But instead, it was life-changing!”

hand holding book

Chris Hammer’s first novel, Scrublands, has been adapted for television. Photo: Chris Hammer.

Hammer’s latest novel continues the loosely connected series that began with burnt-out journalist Martin Scarsden investigating a mass shooting in a drought-stricken Riverina town.

The Seven returns to the Riverina, this time with homicide detectives Ivan Lucic and Nell Buchan, who find themselves in a prosperous irrigation town where the body of a local accountant has bobbed up in a canal.

“My last book, The Tilt, was set in the Barmah-Millewa Forest on the Murray River and there’s a lot about water in that, and I was thinking of having a storyline to do with water trading, but it didn’t fit,” he explained.

“So that kind of suggested this next book because water use is such an interesting thing and it’s very much on the minds of people who live west of the mountains.”

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The narrative of The Seven jumps back and forward in time as we follow the murder investigation and explore the origins of a dynastic private irrigation scheme founded alongside the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area (MIA).

“Schemes like the MIA and Coleambally were developed by the government and they reclaimed the land, developed the schemes and either sold off irrigation blocks or had lotteries or whatever,” Hammer said.

“The idea of a privately developed scheme was not really based on any place that I know, but I wanted to have that dynastic power, if you like, and to look at it all in a fictional environment.”

screenshot of man standing in front of small-town shops

Luke Arnold plays journalist Martin Scarsden in the Stan TV series Scrublands. Photo: Stan.

The four-part TV series, Scrublands, premieres on the Stan streaming platform on 16 November and Hammer said watching a preview of the first episode was an “out-of-body experience”.

“The intriguing thing was that it kind of sucked me in, which I wasn’t expecting,” he laughed.

“In some ways, it’s loyal to the book but in other ways, they’ve reimagined it by telling the story in different ways and it’s very pacy.

“But it looks fantastic and I’m looking forward to watching the next episodes along with everybody else.”

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Hammer was full of praise for the cast, which includes Jay Ryan, Luke Arnold and Bella Heathcote in the leading roles.

“I’m thinking now that in a year or two I might write another Martin Scarsden book and I’m wondering whether, as I write Martin, I’ll be imagining Luke Arnold the actor,” he mused.

In the meantime, Hammer’s seventh novel is already well underway.

“For nearly six years now, I’ve been a full-time writer and I just love it!” he said with a chuckle.

“It’s like I’m living the dream.”

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