Allen & Unwin, Australia, 2020
Trust is the third of the Martin Scarsden series. They are lineal, but there is no need to have read the first two to make sense of and enjoy the third.
This is a pacey novel, plot driven but with careful attention to all characters, including the supporting cast.
The story begins with a kidnapping, and the introduction of a journalistic investigation of something too big and dangerous to discuss on the phone – a temptation Scarsden cannot resist – his journalist juices are tantalised. The story then moves to murder and quite a bit of mayhem, but on the way we delve into the worlds of corporate greed and corruption, organised crime, the privileged wealthy and the law courts.
Set mainly in Sydney, the book embraces the contemporary, with references to bushfire smoke and Covid. Places our characters visit will be familiar streetscapes to Sydneysiders, and there is a pleasure in this for the practised crime fiction reader, who until recently has felt the cultural cringe that determined our crime stories should be set in ‘exotic’ places like New York Chicago or San Francisco.
Investigative journalism also gets a blue ribbon in this story. Not only is the main character a journalist and hence well placed and aptly skilled in nosing out a story, but also the whole business of newspaper journalism has its place in the sun. The journalist is seen as an unofficial partner to police investigators – not always welcomed by law enforcers but often in the right place in this story to attract trouble and solve mysteries.
The theme and title of trust is key to every action and relationship and Chris Hammer adeptly explores it in each of the plots and sub-plots – and they are numerous. Our own mistrust of government, the police and big corporate entities is mirrored in the constant sense in the novel that we aren’t quite sure what is going on and why, and certainly we have no confidence in anybody’s integrity.
The treatment of technology is another interesting strand. As it happens, tech-heads turn out to be pretty useful to our hero, but no less so to the villains, and the capacity to trace or obscure are equal.
Trust is a satisfying piece of crime fiction, complex in its structure and ideas, sometimes equivocal in its judgements. Ultimately there is an obvious reward for honesty, but deception is also acceptable if it is nobly motivated – a bit like life really.
I add my voice to the legions of crime readers saluting Chris Hammer for this work and his previous two. We’ll all await with anticipation whatever follows.
Thanks to Allen and Unwin for the review copy of Trust.