‘NO ONE IS EVER INNOCENT IN PARADISE.
A small town.
A closely guarded secret, stretching back decades.
And blood in the water‘
– Cover the Bones
[ About Cover the Bones ]
A body has washed up in an irrigation canal, the artery running through Yuwonderie, a man-made paradise on the border of the Outback. Stabbed through the heart, electrocuted and dumped under cover of night, there is no doubt that detectives Ivan Lucic and Nell Buchanan are dealing with a vicious homicide.
The victim is Athol Hasluck, member of one of the seven dynasties who have controlled every slice of bountiful land in this modern-day Eden for generations.
But this is not an isolated incident. Someone is targeting the landed aristocracy of this quiet paradise in the desert. Secrets stretching back decades are rising to the surface at last – but the question remains, who stands to gain most from their demise?
Can Ivan and Nell track down a killer before the guilt at the heart of these seven families takes the entire town down with it?
[ My Review ]
Cover the Bones by Chris Hammer is available now in digital format and will be published in hardback January 4th 2024 with Wildfire. Book three in the Detective Nell Buchanan series, Cover the Bones is described as a ‘masterful new Outback thriller’.
Seven dynastic and extremely powerful families run the outback town of Yuwonderie, with their successes and wealth rooted in its water supply and irrigation. Tradition among these families dictates that the eldest son inherits the land and all the influence it brings, with second sons and others, having to make their own way in life. Athol Hasluck is a second son of one such family and when his body is discovered after a brutal attack, detectives Ivan Lucic and Nell Buchanan are brought in on the case to head the homicide investigation. As they delve into the possible cause of this horrific attack, Lucic and Buchanan soon realise that all is not as it seems, with the rot slowly revealing itself.
Cover the Bones is set over three different timelines tracing the history of Yuwonderie back over one hundred years. In the early 1900s, ideas were afoot to create a town that could survive the intense drought of the hot Australian seasons and, from that point, the dominance of the seven families came to the fore. Chris Hammer brings us back to this time through the words of a young woman, Bessie, writing to her mother about her life and the struggles she encounters, especially during the years of the First World War. There is pure innocence and heartbreak in these letters but wrapped up in the sadness is a dark tale, one of cruelty and deception that left Bessie in quite a difficult situation.
In the early 1990s, the order of play among the seven families fluctuated as dynamics and loyalties were tested, leaving devastation and unease in its trail. Fractures began to appear in friendships and truths were buried deep. At times complex and political, this section of the book did require a little more focus as Chris Hammer goes into quite a level of detail, with a more commercial angle to the plot.
Now, in the present day, there is a murder to be solved and Lucic and Buchanan must dig deep in order to break through the perfect veneer of this not so perfect town. There are references scattered throughout about Lucic’s personal story, with enough detail provided for most readers who haven’t read the previous two books in the series to get a grasp of his past.
With three timelines there is a lot to chew on in this tale. The historical element of the plot and the murder investigation are absorbing but my attention did waver slightly as the economic and financial ramifications of the past started to unfold. Overall though, I really enjoyed Cover the Bones. I like Chris Hammer’s writing with its glimpses into the Australian landscapes and people. It all feels quite authentic.
Cover the Bones is a sophisticated tale of powerful families and the intricacies of their strategic choices to stay dominant, whatever the cost. Money, greed, family loyalty, revenge and jealousy all feature in this engaging mystery from a writer described by Michael Connelly as ‘a leader in Australian noir’.
[ Bio ]
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 has reported from more than thirty countries on six continents. Chris’s non-fiction 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.
Scrublands, his first novel, was published in 2018 and won the CWA John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger Award, as well as being shortlisted for Best Debut Fiction at the Indie Book Awards, and Best General Fiction at the ABIA Awards. It has also been longlisted for the Ned Kelly Best Crime Novel of the Year. Scrublands is in post-production for television by Easy Tiger (a FremantleMedia company).
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, Dr Tomoko Akami. The couple have two children.