Dead Man’s Creek by Chris Hammer

It’s strange that in a country as vast as Australia, small towns can be as closed off and as secretive as anywhere else, trapping people with their secrets and refusing to let them go.

At the start I thought we were going to get an eco book with someone creeping around and blowing up the Regulator that holds back water which has meant that the forest is dying but we also meet a man running for his life and hear gunshots in the distance. We then wait a very long time to find out who these people are and how they fit into the story.

Nell Buchanon is sent along with Ivan to her hometown because a body was discovered in the emptied out Regulator. She is reluctant to spend time with her family, avoiding them and throwing herself into solving the case. It turns out the skeleton is old but identifiable through the teeth and a list of missing people. And slowly, slowly, a much bigger story is revealed about Italian prisoners of war and soldiers guarding them, about two boys playing in the forest and about stolen money. Who has what and when are questions asked again and again.

What adds to the drama of the story is the way it is told. The narrator switches to focus on key people and tells things from their point of view although still in third person, moving the story on at a pace, sometimes overlapping stories so that we see more than one point of view. This is a complex, multi-layered story which means the family tree at the end of the book is very useful.

The Barmah-Millewa Forest is a real place and is beautifully described throughout the book as are the storms.

It advanced quickly, not so much a front from the south-west but materialising into the air, the cloud blooming, white and glorious, rising higher and higher, backlit by shafts of gold and pink, like the heavens themselves were singing.


Almost religious and a scene sometimes depicted in paintings. This is God’s country.

For what is rain, if not a promise of new beginnings?


Small towns are perfect for mystery. They enable secrets to be kept and whispered about down through generations. They pit family against family and the history of these families is the backstory of the book. Positioning of houses can be important and tell us about hierarchies and news can travel fast. The town can also be a character itself, larger than life, and all of these elements are present in Dead Man’s Creek.

The dying forest, revived by the Regulator being blown is mirrored in Nell Buchanon’s family and her love for them and desire to be with them. Sometimes, once the dam of secrets is blown, the truth can set people free and so it does in this book.

This is really a Nell Buchanon book as Ivan Lucic spends most of the time elsewhere It does, however, bring Buchanon in as a Homicide Detective. Maybe they will work together in the next book.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *