3 March 2023

Production underway on Chris Hammer's Riverina crime thriller Scrublands

| Chris Roe
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Production is underway on a TV adaption of Chris Hammer’s Riverina crime novel Scrublands. Photo: Easy Tiger.

A new Australian television series based on the work of Canberra’s bestselling crime novelist Chris Hammer has begun shooting in regional Victoria.

Scrublands is set in a fictional Riverina village and the series, currently being produced by Easy Tiger for Stan, stars Luke Arnold as world-weary journalist Martin Scarsden, and Bella Heathcote as bookshop cafe owner Mandalay (Mandy) Blonde.

“The actors look pretty good, they are really pretty similar to what I was imagining when I wrote them,” says Chris with a smile.

“Martin isn’t described because it’s told from his point of view, he’s the one who’s looking at the world, whereas Mandy is described in the book and Bella Heathcote is pretty much exactly how I saw her, so it looks like a terrific bit of casting.”

READ ALSO Canberra’s Chris Hammer takes readers to a new place in The Tilt

The author says that while he’s not involved in the production, he’s feeling excited to see things underway after optioning the book before it was published in 2018.

“It always takes a long time to get these things off the ground and probably 95 per cent of the books that get optioned never make production, so I’m feeling blessed,” he said.

The story follows the damaged investigative journalist’s journey to a tiny drought-ravaged Riverina community a year after a charismatic young priest gunned down five parishioners outside his church.

What starts out as a simple assignment to report on how the town is recovering 12 months on from the tragedy quickly evolves into a complex murder mystery that is not so much a who-done-it as a why-did-he-do-it.

“I’m gonna be really interested to see what they do with it because I think they’re trying to be faithful to the spirit and the story of the book,” says Chris.

“But the book is told pretty much exclusively through the eyes of Martin Scarsden and typically that’s not how film and TV work because the camera’s more objective.”

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He says that incidents from the past that are relayed through dialogue in the book will be depicted through flashbacks in the series.

“With the homicidal priest Byron Swift, for example, you never really see or hear anything from him because he’s already gone. But in the series, they’ve cast him and they’re going to film all of that,” he explains.

“I understand that they’ve also combined a few of the characters and simplified some aspects of it, so it’ll be very interesting for me to see what they do.”

Chris Hammer

Author Chris Hammer is looking forward to seeing what producers do with his bestselling crime novel. Photo: Supplied.

With five best-selling crime thrillers in the series so far, Chris says the setting is a vital component of the storytelling.

He wrote Scrublands after spending time in the Murray Darling Basin at the height of the millennial drought researching for a non-fiction book that was published in 2010.

“I went to one place, a little town called Wakool in the Riverina which was an irrigation town where the river was bone dry and it really stuck with me,” he says.

“So a few years later when I thought I’d try my hand at crime fiction, I thought, that’s a good location because it’s such a desperate place and you know, desperate times, desperate measures.

“But of course, it’s fictionalised because there’s a lot of nasty things that happen in the book that I’d never want to hang on the good people of Wakool!”

While filming on Scrublands has already begun, Chris says he’s yet to receive an invite to the set.

“It might be because they don’t want me to be interfering,” he laughs.

“But also, the writer on the series is a friend of mine, Felicity Packard, and she knows I’m on a deadline trying to finish a book.”

Without letting the cat out of the bag just yet, Chris promises that his next novel will follow on from his most recent police thriller set on the Murray, The Tilt.

“Well, it’s gonna be the same characters as in The Tilt with [rural detectives] Ivan Lucic and Nell Buchanan but more from Ivan’s point of view this time.”

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