Dead Man’s Creek by Chris Hammer – review

Published by Wildfire

Publication date – 5 January 2023

Source – review copy

Newly-minted homicide detective Nell Buchanan returns to her hometown, annoyed at being assigned a decades-old murder – a ‘file and forget’.

But this is no ordinary cold case, her arrival provoking an unwelcome and threatening response from the small-town community. As more bodies are discovered, and she begins to question how well she truly knows those closest to her, Nell realises that finding the truth could prove more difficult – and dangerous – than she’d ever expected.

The nearer Nell comes to uncovering the secrets of the past, the more treacherous her path becomes. Can she survive to root out the truth, and what price will she have to pay for it?

An act of environmental rebellion results in a body being found at the bottom of a now empty reservoir. Nell Buchanan, newly promoted to homicide, finds herself back home investigating just who the body was, and how it came to rest at the bottom of the water. As another body is found, Nell uncovers secrets long buried.

Nell hasn’t returned home in a while. Her parents weren’t so happy with her career choice and though there was no falling out, there was a sense of distance, which Nell made more obvious by moving away. The return to her home town to investigate when  skeleton is found means Nell has to tackle family issues whilst also dealing with her first case as a new homicide detective.

There was a great sense of place about the novel. The reader could easily imagine the location, the rivers and forest, the land desperate for the water held back by man. There was a small town feel, a sense of isolation in the wide open, of places to hide secrets. There’s even a map of town to help you navigate. I don’t know about you but I love a good map.

There are aspects to the story that slowly layer upon each other, fleshing out information here, a seemingly innocuous clue there. As Nell investigates she finds that actions in the past had very real ramifications to future events.

The story is told from three time frames, the 1940s and pre-war, the 1970s and the present day, moving between different characters and so told with their own prejudices and with information kept back, either through accident or design. Nell has to make sense of what she finds to work out what happened to the two skeletons, once they are identified.

Nell’s return to her home town makes her also reassess her family and how she views her relationship with them, in particular her mum and her uncle who she begins to see in a new light. As the investigation progresses she finds out more about her own past and the past of those she grew up with.

This is an engaging, layered mystery, in a great setting that pulls together disparate clues, left for the reader, to a satisfying conclusion. Australian Noir is a sub genre I am enjoying more and more and Dead Man’s Creek is a great addition to it’s cannon.

I look forward to hopefully reading more books featuring Nell Buchanan soon.

You can buy a copy of the book here.

(This is an affiliate link so I may earn a small amount if you buy through it. You can also buy Dead Man’s Creek from your local independent bookshop.

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