Treasure & Dirt by Chris Hammer

 ‘Maybe this is it. The sky is too big, the land is too big. Too many places for secrets.’

Finnigans Gap, a fictional mining town in outback New South Wales is the setting for Mr Hammer’s latest novel. The opal mines aren’t quite as productive as they used to be, which has encouraged some miners to go ‘ratting’: stealing opals from the mines of others. And one night, a group of ratters find the crucified body of a miner in his mine. An anonymous call alerts the police. Who killed the miner, and why?

Sydney homicide detective Ivan Lukic is sent from Sydney to investigate. His senior partner, Detective Inspector Morris Montifore is unable to accompany him, and his assistant is Detective Constable Nell Buchanan, who previously worked in Finnigans Gap in uniform. Nell’s experience in the town is helpful, but there is some history as well. And Ivan Lukic has some preoccupations of his own.

There’s more to Finnigans Gap than opal mining. There is a strange religious cult located outside town, a pair of delightfully named billionaire mining magnates throwing their weight around and several involved family dramas. And it is very, very hot.

There are several threads to this story: an internal investigation into Morris Montifore involves Ivan Lucic, Nell’s previous life in the town causes some complications and soon it seems like Ivan and Nell are fighting to save their careers. The more they dig, the more complicated the case seems to become. There are people with longstanding grudges and there is a complicated history to navigate.

I read this novel in one day because I had to know how it would end. While this novel is a standalone, if you have read Mr Hammer’s other novels, you’ll recognise a couple of the characters.

What can I say without introducing any spoilers? This is a complex, well-plotted thriller which held my attention from beginning to end. Each of the twists fits into the narrative perfectly, and elements of the ending left me with a smile.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith