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Group Read - Scrublands > Group Read - Scrublands chap 1-7 Spoilers Welcome

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message 1: by Ann (new)

Ann (annrumsey) | 14306 comments This topic is to discuss chapters 1-7 of Scrublands by Chris Hammer. *Spoilers welcome*
If the first to post, please briefly summarize to guide the discussion.


message 2: by Ann (last edited Sep 07, 2019 06:00PM) (new)

Ann (annrumsey) | 14306 comments Prologue
Outside St James church, as elderly parishioners arrive for the eleven o'clock service, a group of hunters stop by speaking briefly with the priest, Byron Swift. The priest goes inside, emerging in his robes with a high powered hunting rifle, and proceeds to start shooting members of the hunting party.

Chapter one - Riversend
Martin Scarsden arrives in the deserted, parched town, closed or vacant storefronts, farm trucks and farm vehicles with no owners in sight in the intense heat. A bookstore beckons, Mandalay Blonde the young proprietor doesn't fit the bleak scene.
Martin, from Sydney was sent by his editor to write a one year anniversary story about the aftermath of the shooting. Mandy suggests a better story is why the priest did it. She's never believed it was child abuse.

Chapter two - The Black Dog
The Black Dog is a motel, the only accommodation, is located at the edge of the small deserted town. The Riversend population may have once been 800, but the deserted business district, closed hotel and deserted bar closing at 8 pm tell a different story. Martin, the sole guest of the motel has a disturbing flashback while sleeping.

Chapter three Bloody Sunday
Martin explores the town, stopping by St James, the site of the mass shooting, five men dead including Craig Landers, his general store now run by his widow Fran the only business open seven days a week. Martin's predecessor from the newspaper, D'Arcy Defoe is not a popular man. He evidently asserted the Priest was molesting children. The inquest has not yet taken place.

An interview at the police station arranged with Constable Robbie Haus-Jones finally leads to some information about the shooting. Robbie was the first on the scene where a calm Byron Swift sat on the steps with his rifle. Robbie speaks to him but eventually when the priest points his rifle and shoots Robbie returns fire killing the shooter, his friend and partner leading a youth group.
Robbie never saw indications that Byron Swift ever abused children.


message 3: by Ann (new)

Ann (annrumsey) | 14306 comments Chapter four- Ghosts
Martin unsuccessfully seeks coffee, he follows the shuffling old man who directed him to the motel yesterday down a litter filled narrow alley to an ancient dismal deserted room, an authentic Aussie bar, a relic of the past. A bar for ptsd affected soldiers, ghosts back from war. Harley Snouch, the vagrant loner, the first person Martin meets who states the priest did abuse children as reported by Martin's paper.
Mandy tells Martin that Harley Snouch is an awful man, her father, the man who raped her mother. Martin goes back by St James discovering that Swift must have been an exceptional shot as he recreates the scene and counts shots as described by Robbie. He is startled by a young man on the steps. Luke tells him in high indignation and hurt that Byron Swift was a good man and no way he abused children.


message 4: by Ann (new)

Ann (annrumsey) | 14306 comments Chapter five - The Plain
Martin is torn, his editor Max Fuller is doing him a favor with the assignment, he has what they want with Robbie's exclusive, he is veering away from the assigned story and his encounter with Luke has shaken him. He disgusted with himself and ready to quit it all and attempts to checkout with a refund of the next three nights.

On the road out of town he stops to assist Fran Landers at the scene of an accident, one dead, Fran's son Jamie isn't breathing. Martin assists and goes for help. Robbie finds Martin in the service club and over a beer tells him the dead victim was Allen Newkirk, one of the shooting victim's son. The boy was in the vehicle shot into during the shooting next to the victim Gerry Torlini.
Robbie asks Martin about his war experience in the Middle East. On the Gaza Strip during an interview he was cut off from getting out, trapped in a car trunk for three days with only some bottled water and traumatized by the experience with a battle all around him and his driver taken away. He doesn't usually talk about it.
Robbie suggests Martin talk to a police sergeant in Bellington, Herb Walker who's in charge of the mass shooting case and when Martin mentions Byron Swift's shooting skill suggests Martin go see a man in the scrublands Codger Harris.


message 5: by Ann (last edited Sep 07, 2019 07:44PM) (new)

Ann (annrumsey) | 14306 comments Chapter six - Scrublands
Hundreds of square miles of scrub, no soil, the heat is massive, dust blowing in a threat of fire. The track a corregated path you don't want to veer from. He finds Codger Harris, naked in the heat, not expecting visitors, but freely sharing his moonshine. He explains there is some cattle running on the hellish landscape when it rains and yes, the priest, a nice gentleman came out regularly to shoot. An excellent shot, multiple guns, but generally a holy man and no way he abused kids. Byron liked to camp in the solitude.
Back in Riversend at St James Martin finds Fran Landers inside praying. She agrees to talk with him later, now she will, he saved her son. Fran also asserts no way his predecessor got the abuse story right.

Chapter seven The Dragon
Mandy tells Martin the backstory of Codger Harris, he was a bank manager in Bellington when his wife and child were killed in an accident, he was institutionalized, became a hermit, was given some scrubland by Harley Snouch's father, her grandfather where people looked out for him.
Robbie rushes in, there's a bush fire. They need Martin's help. The fire is unpredictable and d a ngerous, it can kill you just by facing the heat from the front. As scrublands residents escape, Codger Harris confirms old man Snouch is still in there. Robbie goes in after him and Martin goes too. At the impressive old house Snouch is working hard to stay safe inside but the fire has other ideas. The three men barely escape the flames and heat.
Robbie tells Martin that Byron told him Harley Snouch knows everything right before he died.


message 6: by Ann (last edited Sep 07, 2019 07:58PM) (new)

Ann (annrumsey) | 14306 comments The drought, heat, landscape and desolation are so vividly described, I feel like I am there. The audio narration is great.

An interesting note, I am listening to the audiobook but using a Kindle copy to write the summaries. On the audio it was noted the speed when Martin was mooned along the road out of town by Allen Newkirk in Jamie Martin's ute was 110 kilometers. The Kindle copy says 80 miles per hour in a pickup truck. Americanized in digital print but not in the Australian audio.


message 7: by Ann (new)

Ann (annrumsey) | 14306 comments So Craig Landers knew the priest was after him as he shot the others first. Harley Snouch knows 'everything' according to the priest's last words and previously Harley told Martin the story in his paper was dead on.
We keep hearing how the Riversend residents disliked D'Arcy Defoe's story, and don't seem to know D'Arcy (since they ask Martin if he is D'Arcy) For a small town, and people intimately acquainted with the victims it seems odd they wouldn't know the journalist.
Interesting mysteries!


message 8: by Janice (new)

Janice Elliott-Howard (jyhoward1066) | 62 comments Martin Scarsden comes to Riversend to tell the story of a dying town a year after a mass shooting incident. Why Scarsden? He is not the original journalist who wrote the article a year ago. Why not DeFoe? I am not liking the back story on Martin. The whole Gaza strip episodic is not sitting well with me. It seems out of place. I thought Harley was the town bum. It appears that he is most well-off bum Riversend has ever seen. Mandy is sending mixed messages. She hates Harley for violating her mother but has no one else of blood relation left so she needs him to exist. Robbie remembers Bryon mentioning about Harley on his final day. Harley does mention to Martin in the wine saloon his conviction of Bryon’s alleged proclivity for pedophilia. The pockets of action do level out the slow pace of this heartland tale. However, I find myself wondering away from the actual story finding more interest in the location than the characters.


message 9: by Ann (new)

Ann (annrumsey) | 14306 comments Janice: Good question for why not Defoe assigned to the anniversary story instead of Martin.
I think the Gaza strip back-story of Martin provides clues to that question. I didn't mind it as you did. :) Defoe may get the splashy stories that Martin used to, and they seem to be easing Martin back into reporting with a softball assignment.

Mandy definitely throws off mixed signals!

Yes, the location is very compelling and front facing. It is the extra character in the room or out in the horrendous heat as we read /listen.

Janice wrote: "Martin Scarsden comes to Riversend to tell the story of a dying town a year after a mass shooting incident. Why Scarsden? He is not the original journalist who wrote the article a year ago. Why not Defoe?
I am not liking the back story on Martin..."



message 10: by Carol/Bonadie (new)

Carol/Bonadie (bonadie) | 7814 comments I'm amazed the each of the Australian authors we've read paint a very different Australia. It's always dry and somewhat desolate, but the characters and stories are so vividly different (and enjoyable.

Mandalay does indeed give off mixed signals.

I am enjoying this despite some of the perplexities of the novel.


message 11: by Ann (new)

Ann (annrumsey) | 14306 comments Carol: I am also really enjoying unique nature of the settings in the Australian books we've picked to read and discuss!
And on that note, Jane Harper has a new one next year in the Crimson Lake series that I have already added to our 2020 Group Read bookshelf! I forget the title right now... but know we'll want to read it!

Carol/Bonadie wrote: "I'm amazed the each of the Australian authors we've read paint a very different Australia. It's always dry and somewhat desolate, but the characters and stories are so vividly different (and enjoyable..."


message 12: by Carol/Bonadie (new)

Carol/Bonadie (bonadie) | 7814 comments Ann wrote: "And on that note, Jane Harper has a new one next year in the Crimson Lake series that I have already added to our 2020 Group Read bookshelf! I forget the title right now... but know we'll want to read it! ..."

Yes, I saw it pop up in the "Upcoming" section of our home page. It isn't out for quite a while, March I think, but I'll be on board! Thanks for keeping us in Group Reads!


message 13: by Sandi (new)

Sandi (sandin954) | 1189 comments Usually I am not a fan of prologues but this one really drew me in. The setting, atmosphere, town folks, and the question of why the priest did what he did have been very compelling.

While I did not dislike Martin's backstory, I did feel it was a bit superfluous and disrupted the narrative flow, at least for me.

Martin is the least interesting character for me and I would prefer the story to keep the focus on the town and what happened.

I always find it annoying when the publishers Americanize books. I am reading the Kindle version and wondered at a few things that Ann confirmed.


message 14: by Ann (new)

Ann (annrumsey) | 14306 comments Sandi: Good to see you are reading this one. It was quite a prologue!
I see your point that Martin's backstory insertions interrupted the flow at times.
The Australian accents really drew me into the audio and I was glad it wasn't "Americanized" (type of vehicle and miles or kilometers per hour).

Sandi wrote: "Usually I am not a fan of prologues but this one really drew me in. The setting, atmosphere, town folks, and the question of why the priest did what he did have been very compelling.

While I did not dislike Martin's backstory, I did feel it was a bit superfluous and disrupted the narrative flow, at least for me.
.."



message 15: by Bonnie (new)

Bonnie | 367 comments Like all of you, I am impressed how real the setting seems and how well written. The idea that the priest after talking to some hunters most of whom don't attend church was shooting people because HE was an abuser didn't ring true to me. I am not too concerned that Harley, who is noted as a rapist and bad person, confirmed that he was. It seems more likely that the men getting shot were doing something really bad to the people and the priest had no faith anyone would stop them. Human trafficking, land grabs, something to do with water maybe?


message 16: by Ann (new)

Ann (annrumsey) | 14306 comments Bonnie: The setting still resonates with me weeks after I read the book; the heat was so oppressive there, I could almost feel it while reading!
Bonnie wrote: "Like all of you, I am impressed how real the setting seems and how well written. The idea that the priest after talking to some hunters most of whom don't attend church was shooting people because ..."


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