Treasure & Dirt by Chris Hammer, Review: Criminally good

Treasure & Dirt (aka Opal Country) is Chris Hammer’s latest criminally good crime novel set in an evocatively desolate outback opal mining town and the inaugural pairing of detectives Lucic & Buchanan. Read my full review.

Treasure & Dirt (aka Opal Country) Synopsis

Treasure & Dirt (Opal Country), Book Review - Chris Hammer

An unputdownable standalone thriller from the bestselling author of Scrublands.

In the desolate outback town of Finnigans Gap, police struggle to maintain law and order. Thieves pillage opal mines, religious fanatics recruit vulnerable young people and billionaires do as they please.

Then an opal miner is found crucified and left to rot down his mine. Nothing about the miner’s death is straightforward, not even who found the body. Sydney homicide detective Ivan Lucic is sent to investigate, assisted by inexperienced young investigator Nell Buchanan. 

But Finnigans Gap has already ended one police career and damaged others, and soon both officers face damning allegations and internal investigations. Have Ivan and Nell been set up and, if so, by whom?

As time runs out, their only chance at redemption is to find the killer. But the more secrets they uncover, the more harrowing the mystery becomes, as events from years ago take on a startling new significance.

For in Finnigans Gap, opals, bodies and secrets don’t stay buried forever.

(Allen & Unwin, September 2021)

This title is scheduled for publication internationally in January 2022 as ‘Opal Country‘.

Genre: Crime-Detective, Mystery, Thriller

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Book Review

Treasure & Dirt is being marketed as a standalone thriller but keen-eyed book browsers will note homicide detective Ivan Lucic was actually a tertiary character in Hammer’s much-loved Martin Scarsden Series. As a huge fan of that series I really enjoyed the connections between the story worlds.

In Treasure & Dirt, Hammer’s talent for nuanced characterisation is once again on full display, as he peels back the layers of the previously enigmatic Lucic’s backstory. But if I had to pick my favourite character, it would have to be Nell Buchanan, the junior detective with local knowledge assigned to partner him in this homicide investigation. Nell is such an authentically strong female lead – she is tough, not be cowed by male patriarchy and determined to succeed, but at the same time she is highly intuitive and empathetic. She acknowledges and owns her emotions.

Criminally classy execution

Readers who like their criminal plotting complex will enjoy unravelling the seams of the mystery surrounding both current and historical events in Finnigans Gap. But what reliably sets Chris Hammer’s crime fiction apart from the rest is his classy execution.

There are still reports of storms and floods along the coast, but that might as well be another country. Out here the fronts have passed, the fluky coalition of a wayward monsoon and the remnants of a cyclone are gone, the ground is already dry, the mud cracked into mosaic and returning to dust. It’s almost a week since the rain stopped, and summer is reasserting itself with a careless brutality. Through the airport fence, above the runway, the air is bubbling with heat, conjuring mirages, turning dirt to water and tarmac to sky. She scans the heavens: few clouds, no plane.

The understated literary flair with which he sets a scene and evokes a mood makes his prose such a pleasure to read. And, his multi-layered exploration of this story’s resonant theme of ‘power dynamics’ is deeply intelligent, thought-provoking and highly compelling.

In a recent interview* with Booktopia, Hammer said:

“Crime fiction provides such a broad canvas. Quite aside from the crime plot, authors can explore character, morality, location and atmosphere, social issues …”

I can assure you Lucic & Buchanan leave few stones unturned in Finnigans Gap. Treasure & Dirt is another criminally good crime novel from Chris Hammer, an author with enviable talent.

BOOK RATING: The Story 4.5 / 5 ; The Writing 4.75 / 5 – Overall 4.6

Get your copy of Treasure & Dirt (aka Opal Country) from:

Amazon Booktopia AU

I highly recommend readers also check out Chris Hammer’s previous novels Silver and Trust, along with Books 2 and 3 in this Lucic & Buchanan series, The Tilt (aka Dead Man’s Creek) and The Seven.

More Treasure & Dirt reviews

‘I don’t often appreciate descriptive prose. I can, however, appreciate the beauty in words, phrasing. In sentences that sing. Paragraphs that you don’t want to leave behind. I said the same about his previous books – that Hammer’s able to offer prose that go beyond the visual. They translate into something beautiful that doesn’t need to be seen..’ –

‘The Scrublands author tackles corruption in many forms as he brings his ornate plot to a pulse-pounding conclusion, leaving readers to ponder moral questions long after the last page is turned. ‘ – WrittenBySime

Treasure & Dirt is a very impressive and enjoyable crime novel.  I really enjoyed the depth of the plot and the vividness of the descriptions of Finnigan’s Gap and thought it is probably Hammer’s best novel to date.’ – Murder, Mayhem & Long Dogs  

About the Author, Chris Hammer

Chris Hammer was a journalist for more than thirty years, dividing his career between covering Australian federal politics and international affairs. For many years he was a roving foreign correspondent for SBS TV’s flagship current affairs program Dateline. He reported from more than thirty countries on six continents. In Canberra, roles included chief political correspondent for The Bulletin, current affairs correspondent for SBS TV and a senior political journalist for The Age.

His first book, The River, published in 2010 to critical acclaim, was the recipient of the ACT Book of the Year Award and was shortlisted for the Walkley Book Award and the Manning Clark House National Cultural Award. 

Scrublands, his first novel, was published in 2018 and was shortlisted for Best Debut Fiction at the Indie Book Awards, shortlisted for Best General Fiction at the Australian Book Industry Awards, shortlisted for the UTS Glenda Adams Award for New Writing at the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards and won the UK Crime Writers’ Association John Creasey Debut Dagger Award. Silver was published in 2019 and was shortlisted for Best General Fiction at the Australian Book Industry Awards, shortlisted for the 2020 ABA Booksellers’ Choice Book of the Year Award, and longlisted for the UK Crime Writers’ Association Gold Dagger Award. Trust was published in 2020 and was longlisted for Best General Fiction at the Australian Book Industry Awards.

Chris has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Charles Sturt University and a master’s degree in international relations from the Australian National University. He lives in Canberra with his wife, Tomoko Akami. The couple have two children.

This review counts toward my participation in the Aussie Author Challenge 2021.

* My receipt of a review copy from the publisher did not impact the expression of my honest opinions above.