In mid July 2001 Peter Falconio and Joanne Lees were fulfilling a backpacker's dream. Both English, the young couple had spent a large portion of their six years together budget holidaying around the world and had come to live in Sydney as a kick-off to exploring Australia. Both were seasoned travellers and confident that in each other's company they would remain safe, continuing to enjoy the adventure holidays that most people never get to experience.
The Falconio case held the attention of the entire country in 2001 right up to and beyond the successful prosecution of Bradley John Murdoch. Lees tells of her story in a somewhat detached manner, beginning from the early days in which she first met Peter back in England through to present day as she re-builds her life without her boyfriend and hopefully, with less media attention. Peter's body was never found, and is never likely to be considering the sheer size of outback Australia, a fact Lees acknowledges in her book. A prosecution was not the end and failing the occurrence of a complete confession from Murdoch, the questions regarding what happened to Peter Falconio will remain unanswered.
Common to many true-crime books is that the relation of the police investigation with all its failings overwhelms everything else. Lees was treated appallingly by both the police and the media, effectively left to cope on her own in a situation she believes no one could ever be effectively prepared for. The press and the public were highly critical of just about everything Lees did, and the devastating impact this had on a young woman (who only had the occasional well-meaning assistance from a large group of casual friends) it seems, could never be under-stated. The minutiae of Lee's life was laid open for all to comment upon, and Lees conveys this impression of living under public scrutiny as like living your whole life in front of critical strangers – people who hold the firm belief that they are entitled to comment and judge upon events they have little or no real knowledge of.
There are many books out there covering the Lees/Falconio case. This is the only account sanctioned by Ms Lees and is written entirely in her own words. There will always be questions and there will always be gaps and doubts, but commons sense prevails that people under stress do not have perfect recall of their terrifying situations, and that this is probably something of a self-protective mechanism that kicks in when needed. Lees has done a credible job of telling her side of a story which has become one of those cases in Australia that continues to divide opinion even after legal resolution. This is fascinating reading from the only witness there ever truly was to a murder and attempted abduction, carried out in one of the most isolated places in the world.
SEARCHING FOR THE BEAUMONT CHILDREN - Alan J Whiticker
Many Australian's of a "certain age" will have a distinct memory of the Beaumont Children case - either by remembering the events as they occurred, or dealing with the change in how our childhood lives were lived. 40 years on the Beaumont Children are still missing - what happened to them totally unknown.
When the 3 children seemingly vanished from Glenelg Beach the police had very little information to go on, and all these years later the story is no clearer. No bodies have ever been discovered, nor have the 3 children been found living elsewhere. One of the major complicating factors (and possibly the cruelest, most vicious thing of all) is the number of people who had a piece of the case - either as an investigator with a total loss of perspective; clairvoyants holding out all sorts of false hope; people judging the parents for their actions in letting the children go to the beach on their own, and for their supposed reactions afterwards; malicious hoaxers sending letters supposedly to the parents; and finally however took those 3 kids - 40 years on and not a word or even a hint since about what happened to them.
SEARCHING FOR THE BEAUMONT CHILDREN is a fascinating book in that it draws out the timeline of the investigation - from the moment the children were missed to the current day. It covers all of the hoaxes; all of the sheer stupidity that went on around the hunt for the children; all of the false hopes and leads; all of the frequently seemingly thoughtless behaviour of so many people.
Fascinatingly there is a final chapter in the book talking about a number of possible suspects - one of whom hit the headlines in Victoria the day after we won a copy of this book in the Ned Kelly awards at the 2007 MWF. All those years and no idea of what happened to the 3 Beaumont Children; the two young girls taken from the Adelaide Oval in 1972; the 10 year old taken from her Adelaide home in 1983; and a lot of other children who have simply vanished all over Australia.
BIG SHOTS - Adam Shand
There's something - possibly it's car crash fascination - but ultimately there's something nigglingly alluring about True Crime books about the recent ructions in Melbourne's Underworld. Maybe it's the proximity of the goings on, maybe it's the sheer unbelievability of the world that people - who don't live a million miles away from me - live. It's a lifestyle that doesn't have any similarity with my own, yet it goes on in the same city that I live in. And Melbourne's not a humongous metropolis... it's Melbourne.
Adam Shand's Big Shots is, I guess, in that style that they call narrative non-fiction. It rolls out the story of the underworld war that led to a massive amount of publicity in the media, concern in the police, and frankly probably a lot of curiosity in other denizens of this city. As the bodies piled up and the ructions between the various camps increased Adam Shand, a finance journalist who seems to be openly admitting in this book was massively out of his depth, found himself with unexpected access to a number of central characters from both sides of the argument. Although the Carlton Crew were adamant that this was not a war of their making, and a considerable number of their members died, the war was more complicated and considerably more multi-faceated than just a war for territory. It seems to have been partially about territory, partially about long-held grudges, partially a lot of willy-waving and ultimately an exercise in power and what sort of mayhem bucket loads of money can buy you.
If you're even vaguely interested in the story behind the gangland wars - then this book is worth reading. It's certainly not glamorising either the events or the people involved, and it doesn't do a lot for talking up the life of a local gangster.
TOUCHED BY THE DEVIL - John Clarke and Andy Shea
Inside the mind of the Australian psychopath - John Clarke as told to Andy Shea.
Conversational style book about a decidedly non-conversational subject. This is an analysis of psychopathic behaviour with some briefly mentioned true cases as illustration.
The style makes it rather an odd read as the subject matter seems to clash somewhat with the style. Interesting analysis of psycopaths, their methodology and possible thought processes.
SHOTGUN CITY - Paul Anderson
Another true crime novel, based around Melbourne's Gangland Killings from long serving crime reporter on the Herald Sun.
This one covers gangland killings in Melbourne from the original Painters and Dockers disputes back in the 1970's through to the brazen shooting of Lewis Moran in a Club in Brunswick Street in 2004.
Straight forward depiction of a considerable number of killings, presented on a timeline that gives the reader a very clear picture of what was going on - well as much as anyone in the public knows what was going on.
THE BROTHERHOODS - Arthur Veno
'If it's a good ride, there's nothing like it ... you and the machine become one ... It gets to the point on the edge of a hard ride where there is a balance between taking your machine further and a fear of dying. Managing that space is real freedom.'
Riding like there's no tomorrow on the open road, the wind in your face, handling a powerful and responsive machine - you can't get that sort of freedom in a car. Bikies consider themselves 'the last free people in society', unconstrained by the regulations that rule ordinary citizens. And they guard their privacy jealously.
This book is sub-titled "Inside the Outlaw Motorcycle Clubs" and it reads as written by somebody who has sort of got inside the Outlaw Motorcycle clubs but isn't really. The author is an academic who has made a reputation studying Outlaw Motorcyle Clubs and as an "official" observer of their activities. He has performed this role as "official" observer on a number of major motorcyle runs - reporting on both the bikies and police activities.
Interesting as an observational report both from the point of view of the policing strategies used in various locations, and from the clubs who started out as on the fringes of "society" and now finding themselves increasing less influential as Outlaws.
UNDERBELLY 6 - Andrew Rule and John Silvester
I'm overdosing on the Underbelly series a bit at the moment, using them as fillers between some hefty Crime Fiction tomes, and why not. In Underbelly 6 the authors take you thought the disappearance of a wife, mother and ex-TV game show model, a bit about the stitch up of the Mickelberg brothers, the slow poisoning death of a husband in Bendigo, the inexplicable death of a policeman and a range of other snippets. The tongue in cheek style of the authors just appeals.
THE SOCIETY MURDERS - Hilary Bonney
Why was Melbourne so fascinated by the Wales-King murders. For the longest time, reporters went absolutely berserk, almost stalking the family for pictures and quotations. From the time the Margaret Wales-King and her husband Paul King went missing, the rumour mill went into overdrive and every utterance of anyone even remotely connected with the case was plastered all over the pages of every newspaper in town.
The reason I wanted to read this book is to see if Hilary Bonney answered this question, and ultimately, she asked the same question. As the author states in the conclusion to the book, there are 340 murders in Australia (on average). Twelve of these victims are parents killed by their children, of these, five are mothers.
At the same time that the Wales-King case was being plastered all over the newspapers, a nearly identical set of circumstances were being played out in Altona, when a 39-year old fitter and turner killed his Italian born mother and father, again for money. No major headlines, no intense media interest and no "walking tours of their Altona" as there were of Wales-King Armadale.
Makes you wonder about us doesn't it.
UNDERBELLY 9 - Andrew Rule and John Silvester
The UNDERBELLY series is a set of shortish books written by journalists Silvester and Rule covering various events in the criminal underworld of Victoria in particular.
Underbelly 9 covers the shooting of Andrew Veniamin by Mick Gatto, and Gatto's subsequent trial and aquittal, the case of a serial stalker, abalone poachers, the death of a woman and her daughter at the hands of her husband and a number of other stories.
All of these stories are told with Silvester and Rule's classic irreverant, tell it as we see it style.
HODDLE STREET: THE AMBUSH AND THE TRAGEDY - Peter Haddow
This was published some considerable time ago, but for some reason in the last few weeks I've been drawn towards some True Crime books. This was a particularly harrowing read, all about the events of Hoddle Street in 1987 - told as short snippets from the viewpoint of many of the people involved - the dead, the injured and the police desperate to get the manic situation under control. I think it was that method of telling the story that made it all the more stark. Excellent book to give you a true feeling for how the unimaginable and unexpected affects everyone.