A disused bank vault holding eight dismembered bodies immersed in barrels of acid. Two bodies buried in a suburban backyard. A further two found in the bush.
Informed by material never seen before - an interview with Bunting's last lover Elizabeth Harvey, and with the Crown's key eye-witness James Vlassakis and with details of the torture and crimes not previously released - this is a tensely woven and microscopic examination of tawdry lives and tragic deaths.
Quick comments, rather than a full review, but for those that aren't aware - this is a book about the notorious South Australian "Snowtown" killings. There's only ever been a couple of other books that have taken me longer to read - KILLING FOR PLEASURE has been picked up, read a bit and put down since 2006.
Not because of the writing, or the analysis or even the nature of the crimes - this book covers one of those completely inexplicable, sad, pointless, horrible crimes that really did happen - as unlikely as that could possibly be. It also attempts to look for some answers, albeit seemingly on the basis of the author's own research - there appears to be little by way of official explanations or consideration. Ultimately this was a very difficult book to read because this is real life and this is about the nature of a place and society that allowed twelve people (they know about) to disappear over seven years.
NO JUSTICE - Robin Bowles
On 19 July 1995, two young men stumbled upon a partially clothed skeleton, wearing lingerie, high-heeled boots and jewellery, in a disused mineshaft near Bonnie Doon, Victoria.
The sensational find was identified as the remains of transsexual Melbourne prostitute Adele Baily, who had been missing for more than 17 years. How did Adele Baily die, and why was her body hidden in a forgotten mineshaft?
This is the story of the life of Adele Baily, her death and the connection between the location of her body and the house in which Jenny Tanner died. Victorians, in particular, will probably be well aware of the case of the supposed suicide of Jenny Tanner - who supposedly shot herself in the head, twice, with a shotgun, fired by her toes. But this book's not about Jenny Tanner - it's about Adele Baily and the location of her body and the connection with ex-policeman Denis Tanner.
Reading this book wasn't a very satisfying experience to be brutally honest. Probably a personal opinion, as I think I prefer my true crime reading to lay out the details of a case and allow me to draw my own conclusions. NO JUSTICE felt, to me, like there were viewpoints being expanded and conclusions drawn for me.
ROUGH JUSTICE - Robin Bowles
Rough Justice: Unanswered Questions from the Australian courts examines the question at the heart of our criminal justice system - what happens when our courts get it wrong?
ROUGH JUSTICE comes from that section of True Crime books which include telling the story of particular cases, and then analysing aspects of those cases.
As with all these sorts of books whether or not it will work for the reader depends on a number of highly subjective elements - whether you agree with the issues raised by the author (either that they exist or they are issues); whether you agree with the outcome or the methodology of that analysis; and whether or not you like or dislike either the tone of book, the raising of the case, the author or any combination of these and/or any other elements you want to raise.
Makes this sort of book a tricky read for a lot of people and you'd have to be silly not to think that True Crime, in particular, is an easy path for either author or reader.
What I appreciated in this book in particular is that the cases that were raised were raised, that the issues that were highlighted were highlighted, and the analysis that was undertaken was voiced. No idea if I agree or disagree or even came up with my own conclusions in the main. But the justice system in this country has to be robust enough to stand up to scrutiny, which is part of the reason that I read these sorts of books - regardless of the cases, the author, the issues or the period of time that has passed.
BLOOD STAIN - Peter Lalor
'There are murders and there are murders. There are bodies and there are bodies, and then there's what lies waiting behind the front door of the little brick house with its blinds drawn and air conditioner droning on, working against the oppressive Hunter Valley heat. A glimpse into the dark, cockroach corners of the soul. A lot of the blokes at the scene that day will never be the same.'
You can't possibly say that you've ever been looking forward to reading a book about a case like this, but I have had this book here since it was first published, and I've picked it up and read a little now and then since then. Frankly, the subject matter made me queasy.
But in the same way that the author wanted to know what on earth made Knight go so far over the top, ultimately, I was wondering the same thing. So I eventually stopped sooking and sat down and read this book.
It's no wonder that Katherine Knight is never to be released, and whilst the circumstances of her life are delved into in this book, you still wonder why or how it is that a woman could go so far over the top. So very very far over the top. I think BLOOD STAIN does give you an inkling into what can turn a woman into a killer. I'm not sure anyone could explain what would turn a woman into the sort of killer Kath Knight became. Interesting book about a very stomach turning case.
GANGLAND AUSTRALIA - James Morton and Susanna Lobez
"Gangland Australia" is a book about organized crime and the professional criminals who have recklessly cut a swathe through Australia over the last 200 years. It is a book with accounts of murder, robbery, standover, prostitution, drugs, great escapes, revenge, betrayal, corruption, police, lawyers, doctors and politicians.This is a forensic investigation of criminal gangs in Australia, from convicts and bushrangers right up to the recent gangland slayings in Melbourne.It is written in a very accessible style, with a narrative flow which reads as part history, part-thriller.
I bought this book at last years Crime & Justice festival, and at the time Susanna Lobez was kind enough to sign it with me including the inscription "Stay curious!".
And that is the best way I can recommend this book - staying curious, reading this sort of historical true crime fiction, reminds you that nothing is ever really new. And nothing is ever "the worst it has ever been" or "never before in the history...." or whatever else the media feeds you (obviously I'm thinking of the "Underbelly Wars" here).
Commencing at the beginning of the arrival of the British in Australia, this book takes you right through to the 1990's, outlining the various criminal gangs, crimelords and warlords, as well as their lesser and greater known exploits. So much is touched on - the drug dealing, prostitution, stand-over merchants, infights, murders, and bashings.
And it ranges over a range of different cities, nationalities, groupings, allegiances, loyalties and disloyalties.
This is a great book to read through, or to dip in and out of. And it is a tremendous book to remind you that there's very little new under the sun.
KING OF THIEVES - Adam Shand
From the mid 1960s, a brazen band of Australian thieves ran riot in London for more than a decade, pulling off the most daring heists Scotland Yard had ever seen. They were tagged by the Press as the Kangaroo Gang.
The gang, led by the charismatic 'King' Arthur Delaney, targeted the plush emporia of Knightsbridge and the fine jewellers of Mayfair. But the King didn' t stop there, criss-crossing Europe to lay siege to the luxury retailers of Paris, Brussels, Rome and beyond.
I'm one of those people who have vaguely heard of the Kangaroo Gang but didn't really know many of the specific details. What I never realised was how wide the reach of this gang of thieves was.
KING OF THIEVES is a wonderful tale about the exploits of a brazen bunch of Aussie thieves and shoplifters who hit London and the Continent, with aplomb, starting in the mid 1960s.
It's also one of those books that makes you feel slightly guilty - it's hard not admire this bunch of astounding, brazen, clever, and straight out cunning band of crooks. One of the things that does sober your estimation just a bit is the revelation that interwoven with the story of the Kangaroo Gang is the story of some of the biggest villains in Australia, and some of their connections to the American Mafia and beyond.
Adam Shand has told a wonderfully readable tale in this book - full of stories of exploits, failed and successful and character studies of many of the members of the Gang. He's also outlined some of the downsides of a life of crime, as well as the upsides. Perhaps what the book doesn't do is give you an indepth analysis of some of the key players, but that's not to underestimate what the book actually does tell you. The story of the Kangaroo Gang is one of careful analysis, and careful planning, as well as playing fair with all members of the group. They used a sophisticated setup of "head pullers", distraction, fleet of hand and fleet of foot, timing and extreme care. They never resorted to violence, and they distributed the funds fairly amongst everyone involved - from the person doing the actual stealing right through to all the "head pullers" no matter how many there were. And they also worked most successfully in the days before security cameras, large numbers of store detectives, and in a time when police weren't automatically able to access photo ID's for Gang Members. They also had a startling range of faked and alternative ID's and they seemed to travel almost without detection. Particularly enlightening is the end of the book where the author walks some of the paths that the Gang took, visits some of the very upmarket jewellery stores that they frequented and looks at how easy it is to "fit in".
A fantastic introduction to a period of time in Australia's history - where it just has to be said - exporting our crims back to the land that sent so many of them here in the first place is tantalisingly funny. The book is discussing a serious crime wave, with victims that should be remembered, and a gang from which many members ultimately did turn to less "savoury" areas such as drugs. But if for no other reason, read KING OF THIEVES to find out something about a little known Australian Gang. If that doesn't work for you, the connections between the Kangaroo Gang and so many "names" of the current criminal world will really make you think.
WOMEN WHO KILL - Lindy Cameron & Ruth Wykes
Women Who Kill explores more than a dozen cases of murder in Australia and New Zealand where women have taken the lives of loved ones and total strangers for the thrill of it.
True Crime writers Lindy Cameron and Ruth Wykes examine the evidence and look inside the hearts and minds of women who have ended the lives of others.
Whilst WOMEN WHO KILL is Lindy Cameron's 5th True Crime book, it is the first for WA based writer Ruth Wykes. This is a book in which individual chapters look at a range of Australian and New Zealand murderers. All of them female. None of these murder fall into the category of defence killings. It's an odd feeling to come to this book, knowing that somehow, somewhere in the back of your head is the idea that it's almost "understandable" for a woman to kill in defence - against violence, in defence of her children, in defence of her family. Cameron and Wykes look at 12 separate cases, under the major headings "Truly, Madly, Deadly'; 'Vicious Young Things' and 'Overkill', none of which could ever be remotely classified as "understandable".
Reading the details of what these women did is a very telling experience. Leaving aside all of the social taboos, it's a series of motives, outcomes and methodologies that, sadly, in terms of True Crime, are often told. Thrill killing, killing to cover up another crime, killing as a way of gaining or exerting power over somebody else - the scenarios are all here. The range of perpetrator types are also here. Abused, powerless, desperate, cunning, stupid - the full range of how people get themselves into the position of killing another human being.
Most of the cases discussed in this book are chilling enough, add the idea of a female perpetrator, and some of the circumstances in which the victims were placed and you're left with a rather sinking feeling.
There are, however, a few particularly memorable moments, Wykes recounts the story of Catherine Birnie in some detail, finishing off with her own face to face, and way too close for comfort encounter with the real Birnie, deep in the library stacks of Bandyup Prison. The section 'Vicious Young Things' starts off with the reminder that violent crime by young women is on the rise, making you think long and hard about what it was like to be a young woman all those years ago and wonder when the barriers shifted. The story of Vicki Efandis (Dinner and a Murder) that ends with the reader wondering how you'd deal with being face to face with somebody so unfeeling and arrogant. Just three examples in an overall set of cases that will all give you something to think about for a long time after you've put the book down.
For this reader, True Crime reading is about the search for understanding. WOMEN WHO KILL also provided illumination. I think I'm right in my understanding that thrill killing and psychopathic behaviour only exhibits (or most frequently exhibits) in the human race. Why on earth we would assume that it only applies in the case of one of the sexes is mystifying. WOMEN WHO KILL clearly demonstrates that human nature (in this case the worst of) most definitely is not the domain of the male of the species.
AUSTRALIAN TRAGIC - Jack Marx
Here are stories from Australia's Dark Heart: of catastrophe and misfortune, intrigue and passion, betrayal and tragedy.
Some you may think you know - others, you have never heard of - but all will capture your imagination.
The blurb of this book really really intrigued me - and it's true there are stories that I've heard of, some I knew a lot about, some simply rang a bit of a bell. There were others that I knew absolutely nothing about. As the blurb goes on to say, they range across our past and our present: the heartbreaking story of the fire at Luna Park; the unstoppable opportunist who snatched innocent men and women from Palm Island to be part of P.T. Barnum's 'Greatest Show on Earth'; a world-class boxer who lost his battle with alcohol and ended up in an unmarked American grave; Steve Irwin, who was written off as a joke by the media, only to be hailed as a hero by the same media on his sudden death; and a man who heroically survived a war to find himself crushed and defeated by events much closer to home.
Sounds intriguing doesn't it. A real page turner. And most of the stories are intriguing, or enlightening, and there were some moments of real analysis and taut observation (such as the Steve Irwin story), but mostly, I found the book hard going. I think, in the end, the over-melodramatic storytelling style dragged the whole thing out. It made the reading of most of the stories overly difficult and the style took away too much from the content. Which is a pity. There's some history in this book that should have stood out more.
CONFESSIONS OF A CROOKED COP - Sean Padraic
Detective Sergeant Trevor Haken was one of the infamous Golden Mile's most crooked cops. Now he lives in hiding, in a hell of his own creation.
Graduating from small bribes to stealing money and receiving kickbacks from drug dealers, Haken became an informant for the Wood Royal Commission into corruption in the New South Wales Police Service. The Commission's findings sent shockwaves through the police force and beyond, resulting in the dismissal and resignation of many officers, and the reorganisation of policing in the state.
Part personal story, part historical overview, part warning about how easy going wrong can sometimes be, CONFESSIONS OF A CROOKED COP is the story of NSW Policeman Trevor Haken as told to author Sean Padraic.
This book is flagged in the media release as "The corrupt cop from UNDERBELLY 3 tells his side of the story" so it's not going to come as a lot of surprise to see this book out and the timing in which it was released. I haven't seen a lot of the publicity for UNDERBELLY 3 but I'd take a wild guess that this book tells the personal story of one of the main figures of the upcoming series. It is the personal story of one of the most important police informants testifying before the Wood Royal Commission into corruption in the New South Wales Police Service.
Given that it is a personal story, and despite it being told by a third party author, there is a single viewpoint slant to the book with little external analysis or review of the story being told. There also doesn't appear to be overly strenuous attempts to paper over the corrupt activities that Haken was involved in, although the details are somewhat sketchy and there is an unavoidable feeling of things that the teller of the tale simply did not want to talk about / expand on. There's definitely a sense of careful explanation going on. This is possibly one of the most interesting aspects of the book - that slightly reticent feeling. Perhaps a dance with the truth because it sits more comfortably, or is it as a result of the voiced concern for Haken's welfare (he's in Witness Protection still)?
Either way, in something that strikes me as particularly telling, I doubt the revelations in this book are as explosive or startling as they may have been at the time of the Royal Commission itself. What was undoubtedly disturbing is the extent to which exposure of the corrupt and illegal activities within the New South Wales police system ultimately relied on the testimony of personnel within the ranks. The risks that Haken (and others like him) took to bring the truth to light obviously takes courage and nerve. The way in which he was treated after the event, and how he now must live his life is the real exposé of the book.
THE DARK SIDE - Roger Rogerson
Roger Rogerson hasn't been a police officer for more than 20 years. Yet his name makes him the most well-known 'detective-sergeant' in Australia.
He has been the subject of articles, appearances, profiles and books; portrayed in TV dramas; and recorded by covert listening devices at home for months.
Rogerson took up his own pen in prison. Out, he walked the club and pub speaking circuit, where he found a ready audience for his tales of law and mayhem. He now writes for newspapers.
Reading the autobiography of someone who has become notorious for whatever reason is always a little difficult; especially if there has been past misdeeds or alleged crimes. Just how much of the truth are you really getting? After all you're only getting their side of the story and there's nothing in the way of critical analysis of that story.
I doubt that Rogerson was telling "the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth." There is little or no mention about the events that made him so notorious although his accounts of cases he worked on are interesting enough. You get the picture of what would be called an old time traditional detective who isn't averse to bending the rules to achieve and outcome. Just how far those rules were bent is left to the individual to decide.