The Seven by Chris Hammer

Reviewed by Rod McLary

Chris Hammer is one of Australia’s finest crime writers.  His first novel Scrublands won the prestigious UK Crime Writers Association John Creasy Award for a debut novel in 2019; and was shortlisted for other awards in Australia and the United States.  This book The Seven is the third in a series with Detective Sergeant Ivan Lucic and Detective Constable Nell Buchanan.  Each of the three can be read as a stand-alone novel or together as a series.

DS Lucic and DC Buchanan are sent to a remote [but fictitious] town in western New South Wales – Yuwonderie – built on the back of a prosperous irrigation scheme.  Their task is to investigate the death of a local accountant Athol Hasluck the younger son of one of the founding families of the scheme – known collectively as ‘The Seven’ – all powerful and wealthy families who control the scheme and much else besides.  There emerges a political dimension to the police investigation as Lucic and Buchanan move closer and closer to solving the murder.

There are three narrative strands which run through the novel.  The primary one is of course the present-day investigation of the death; the second is the 1994 story of Davis Heartwood eldest son of another family of the Seven; and the third is a series of letters from Bessie to her mother written through 1913 to 1915.  Bessie is part-Aboriginal and is engaged from age 16 to work for the Titchfields – another of the families.  Bessie’s mother lives in a mission.  Bessie’s letters are beautifully rendered and could almost stand alone as her story with their description of the latent and subtle racism experienced by her as she creates her place in the ‘white’ world.  The relevance of the letters to the later narratives gradually emerges as the story unfolds.

The plot is an intricate one involving as it does the various machinations of the Seven – one hundred years ago – as they develop the irrigation scheme; and more recently the various other companies and trading arrangements which further enhance their wealth and power in the community and beyond.  Is Athol Hasluck’s death linked to the scheme and if so, why was he killed?  The story becomes increasingly complex as Lucic and Buchanan work their way to the heart of the issue.

Uncovering the heart of the issue uncovers corruption, misuse of power and prestige, criminal money laundering and betrayal.  It is indeed a complex narrative of which the author has at all times full control.  The final denouement sets out all the details logically and comprehensively which will satisfy all readers of the novel.

But as intriguing as the various machinations are, it is the characters which engage the reader.  The author has crafted a cast of characters whose authenticity leaps from the page.  From Bessie’s letters to her mother which exude intelligence and grace to DS Lucic’s fraught relationship with his father and his equally fraught addiction to poker machines; the essential goodness of Davis Heartwood and Jack Marney as contrasted with the brutishness of the scions of the Titchfield and Allsop families, The Seven is full of memorable characters.  And Lucic and Buchanan are both three-dimensional characters who fully engage the reader and who are immensely likeable.

Chris Hammer is indeed one of the finest living crime writers and The Seven will further cement his reputation.  Highly recommended to all those who enjoy crime novels and particularly those novels with an Australian setting.

The Seven


by Chris Hammer

Allen and Unwin

ISBN 978 176106 742 6

$32.99; 485pp


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