Chris Hammer’s crusading journalist Martin Scarsden is back for a third go round in Trust, follow up to the highly successful Scrublands and Silver. The driver for Trust is lightning striking in the same place for the third time. That is, that Martin’s partner, the unfortunately named Mandalay Blonde is once more right in the middle of the action, only this time she gets to do some of the investigating herself.
When Trust opens, Mandalay has been kidnapped, Scarsden finds an unconscious policeman in their house and his former editor, Max, is keen for him to come to Sydney to help him blow open a huge story. Before long Mandy and Scarsden are both in Sydney, Max is dead in suspicious circumstances and a series of events from Mandy’s past are haunting them both. It turns out five years earlier Mandalay was engaged to marry a man, Tarquin Molloy, who was thought to have absconded with ten million dollars from the merchant bank where they both worked. Tarquin’s body has now been found, and Mandy learns that he was actually an undercover policeman who was killed at the time. The hunt is on for the missing money but also the truth behind Tarquin’s actions, Max’s killer, and their connection to a secret “dinner club” featuring some of Sydney’s biggest movers and shakers.
While Scrublands sat in the growing Australian rural noir tradition and Silver followed that tradition to the coast, Trust is relentlessly urban. Hammer does his best to deliver a non-tourist Sydney – cold, wintery, full of office drones and, interestingly post-pandemic. As with many of the descriptions in the book, Hammer overeggs the pudding here, with an oversupply of laboured metaphors. But for all that, he is faithful to Sydney’s geography and suburban enclaves. For those unfamiliar with the city, this book, like the others in this series, has a handy, cartoon-style map at the front showing key locations in the city.
Fans of Hammer’s previous books will not be disappointed by Trust. While slightly longer than most crime fiction, Hammer’s plotting is tight, tension is kept high and the revelations are doled out effectively. This book is generally structured around alternating chapters from Mandalay and Martin’s points of view, giving parallel directions for the investigation and giving Mandalay more agency than she has had in previous volumes. After all she has been through, it feels by the end of this volume that Hammer might be prepared to give her a break. If so, it will be interesting to see what he does next.