COPS - TRUE STORIES FROM AUSTRALIAN POLICE - Vikki Petraitis
From the bizarre to the brutal to the unbelievable, truth is often stranger than fiction, as these fascinating true stories testify.
Vikki Petraitis has spent hundreds of hours interviewing police - and even accompanying them on active duty - to compile this collection of stories from the frontline of policing.
Commenting on books written by people you know is always a little bit tricky, but one of the things that I always admire about these sorts of books from Petraitis is the way that she can tell somebody's story clearly, compassionately, often with a great sense of humour, but never imposing herself on the telling. This is a book which is very much about the people whose stories are being told. And there are some interesting little snippets not covered in other True Crime books - the perilous retrieval of a woman's body from a sunken submarine; the capture of a brutal child rapist; the search for man lost in the Victorian high country; the story of the death of a man in small town South Australia; and most interestingly the tracking of a pair of suburban cops during a night on the beat.
Recommended as a simple, well told tale of stories from the other side of the standard true crime offering.
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.
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.
OUTSIDE THE LAW 2 - Lindy Cameron (editor)
In OUTSIDE THE LAW 2 some of our best crime writers take you on a trip into the shadows of Australian society. You'll meet croos who just can't help themselves; killers with twisted logic or hearts of darkness; and cops who daily walk the thinnest of lines to keep the evil at bay, and away from the rest of us.
I often wonder why authors get involved in True Crime writing. Surely there must be a component of it that's just soul destroying. Writing about the sad, mad, bad, idiot, evil, opportunist criminals who commit the most senseless acts. Then again, there are a lot of us that read True Crime. I know there's all the analysis of "why" - the voyeurism, the thrill, readers getting a glimpse into a world that luckily most won't ever experience first hand, the readers searching for the why behind so many acts.
OUTSIDE THE LAW 2 fits into the middle of the three current OUTSIDE THE LAW books neatly. It's the first of the books edited by Lindy Cameron, and it features stories by a wide range of well known true crime writers such as Robin Bowles, John Kerr, Vikki Petraitis, Paul Kidd, Dr Shelley Robertson and more.
This set of books is made up of a series of chapters, each one touching on an individual event / story. There are some lighter hearted moments, and definitely a wide variety of styles of story-telling and of the stories being told. There isn't necessarily a theme to what's included, and there's a wide range of timeframes for when the crimes were committed. It's that aspect that I find so particularly interesting - the way that no matter how "advanced" our society allegedly becomes - the more things supposedly "improve" - the more so much of it stays the same. Those sad, mad, bad, idiot, evil and opportunistic people are still out there - commmitting acts that just make you wonder.
If you're a fan of True Crime, the whole of the OUTSIDE THE LAW series comes highly recommended.
OUTSIDE THE LAW 3 - Lindy Cameron (editor)
Good cops, bad cops, killer husbands, homicidal women, thieves, firebugs, art heists and jailbreaks.
In Outside the Law 3 some of our best crime writers take you on a walk down the darkest side of life.
You’ll meet crooks who just can’t help themselves; killers with twisted logic or hearts of darkness; and cops who daily walk the thinnest of lines to keep the evil at bay, and away from the rest of us.
Every year in Australia, there are a lot of true crime books released. The OUTSIDE THE LAW series from Five Mile Press is now up to number 3, edited by Lindy Cameron, released in August 2009. It includes an interesting forward from the editor where she says (amongst other things):
"What is it about ordinary law-abiding Australians and our bizarre fascination with robbers, murderers and low-life crooks? Why do those of us not personally affected by the violence or incomprehensible loss visited on too many in our society want to know the details of what happened - of exactly how it happened?"
There are then a series of possible explanations for our fascination, all of which I agree with 100% but there's one that was missed out, and an itch that is scratched admirably by OUTSIDE THE LAW 3 - and that's a look at our shared history. Undoubtedly a history through tragedy, but in the retelling of a variety of cautionary tales, there's also a chance to look back at what sort of a society we were, and how we reacted to what was happening at the time.
OUTSIDE THE LAW 3 addresses a number of different stories, and therefore topics. I've already reviewed SALVATION by Vikki Petraitis, which is the story of Rod Braybon and how he survived an horrific childhood in care. As desperately sad and distressing are the circumstances described, there's a sense of renewal at the end of that book that I hope is continuing, and an excerpt of that story is one of the early chapters in this book. Compare the circumstances of Rod's childhood at the hands of the authorities with that of "Tara", at the hands of her biological family - in a story by Robin Bowles of the horrendous child pornography case that ended well, due to the determination of police in Brisbane and in particular, Georgia, USA. Renee Otmar tells a much more personal story of the cold blooded and very chilling murder of a very young baby, whilst John Allin tells of his experiences with the family of a young girl kidnapped in Adelaide, at the time and again 30 years on. Liz Filleul looks at the inexplicable murder of a mother and daughter, whilst Peter Haddow considers the murder of a West Australian teenager by another girl, barely older than the victim.
From a procedural point of view Shelley Robertson, an expert witness in her own right, provides a wonderfully pointed outline of the strategies of both defence and prosecution teams in a courtroom (using some very illustrative quotes from Chicago - the musical), whilst Narelle M Harris looks at the impact of the interminable forensic investigation TV programs can have on the sense and sensibility of many jury members.
The book is also nicely sprinkled with the sorts of tales that many fans of True Crime expect from this sort of book - the bad, the mad, the dangerous and the daring. John Kerr looks at the rise and fall of Kiwi Terry Clark (recently made somewhat more famous than he was by Underbelly 2), as well as the Donald Mackay case out of Griffith, the Mafia and the involvement of flamboyant Labor Minister Al Grassby. Leslie Falkiner-Rose looks at the 1976 Great Bookie Robbery, including talking to a bookie who was there on the day, and she also takes the reader back into the hard-drinking, hard-working, slightly insane world of the police rounds reporters on newspapers. Jacqui Horwood looks into Task Force Zebra, an investigation into SP Bookmakers and alleged corruption in the Licensing, Gaming and Vice Squads of Victoria Police, whilst Rochelle Jackson spends some surreal time as a prison visitor to talk to Freddy Cako about his life in jail.
The good thing about this collection is the balance of stories, from the desperately sad and distressing, to the infuriating and the brazen, along with some very funny moments. None of the funny moments are overdone, belittling or cruel - but, in particular, the story of the newspaper roundsman has some laugh out loud moments as the antics are revealed. There are some touching moments as well - the story of journalist John Allin and the family of Kirste, kidnapped all those years ago in Adelaide as an example.
But does this collection answer the question of why we are so fascinated? I doubt anybody can come up with a single explanation as everybody will come to a True Crime book for a variety of different reasons. Did this one meet my particular desire for an historical perspective? Absolutely. The stories that are covered in this book - some vaguely familiar / some new to me, all go to remind us yet again of the best and the worst of humanity.
MEANER THAN FICTION - Lindy Cameron (ed)
Just where is justice in Australia hiding? This brilliant new collection of true crime stories takes us into the Australian courts of the 1980s and '90s, back in time to the goldfields of the 1860s and out to the island nation of Nauru in 2006 to explore how the scales of justice are unabalanced. This is a world in which the innocent still get locked up and the guilty too often go free.
One of the principles of a strong democracy (and hence a strong justice system) has to be the right to scrutinise decisions made in our collective name.
MEANER THAN FICTION is one such book - with a series of individual writers looking at a range of cases over the years that desperately call out for such scrutiny. There are a range of viewpoints and issues discussed in this book - from the victim's point of view in the case of Dr Andrew Taylor, to the perpetrator whose extenuating circumstances are simply not acknowledged (despite later cases that have been treated very differently). There's analysis of the anguish of families and loved ones in the event of an inexplicable disappearance / mrder and the role that crime writers can play in redressing a miscarriage of justice. There's historical perspective, as well as a range of cases from more current times. It's not just murder that's discussed either - the tragedy of the so called "Pacific Solution" is starkly outlined, as is the "whole truth" of some expert testimony. There are some things worth highlighting as well - such as the Innocence Project, but there is the other side - the difficult situation faced by victims of a flatmate peeping Tom.
This anthology is as relevant now as it was when it was originally published. It's a stark reminder of the need for scrutiny and was instructive, saddening, uplifting and fascinating.
KILLER IN THE FAMILY - Lindy Cameron & Fin J Ross
Most murder victims in Australia are killed by someone they know - usually by someone in their family.
Killer in the Family explores more than twenty cases where families have been torn apart by murder.
KILLER IN THE FAMILY is the sort of true crime book that goes back and looks at a range of different cases - many of which were extremely notorious - but in this book, the viewpoint is, as the title suggests, where the killer has been part of the victim's own family.
The introduction to the book starts out with some startling statistics - analysing the total number of homicide incidents in Australia (5226 in the seventeen years to 2006) - 5617 victims and 5743 offenders. From there the breakdown of the number of "stranger murders" versus "murder by a friend or acquiantance", breaking the latter down further into murder by "intimate partner". One way or the other, you read these sorts of statistics and you just have to wonder how people can get themselves into that position. But there's nothing very sophisticated or unusual in most of the motivations for most of these murders - it seems to come down to a combination of jealousy, fear, resentment, monetary gain, revenge, sheer bloody stupidity or some combination of all or some of them. Unfortunately, when it comes to close human relationships we don't seem to be learning much from the past.
The style of the book is to discuss the events - as known - in the leadup to these crimes, and then look at some of the impacts and outcomes - including the sentencing handed down to the perpetrator. (This frequently includes some very pithy and hard to disagree with conclusions on the part of the authors).
The book is really well worth reading as it provides some real insights into the nature of the crimes and the people that were involved, as well as providing a viewpoint of the outcomes which often isn't discussed in books "reporting" the crimes only.
The range of crimes reviewed is also quite extensive, which was extremely sobering. They are grouped together into a series of parts - Father's Day, Suffer the Little Children, Women Who Kill, Children Who Kill, Men Who Kill, Families Who Die and The Hit List. It's astounding the damage that people will cause to the people closest to them.
KILLER IN THE FAMILY takes a different angle on a number of well known (and written about cases), which is succinctly put with the groupings into the Parts enough to make you stop and think. Extremely readable, despite the subject matter, it sounds odd to say that you "liked" a true crime book - particularly one about people with such intimate contact with the people that they kill - but I've got to say I found this book extremely readable.
THE MYSTERY OF THE MISSING MASTERPIECE - Robin Bowles
The great thing about the Australian Crime Fiction scene these days is there is a book for just about every sort of reader. THE MYSTERY OF THE MISSING MASTERPIECE (and the earlier book THE CURSE OF THE GOLDEN YO-YO) are the sort of books that may appeal to people who like their crime on the lighter side, their romance on the slightly chaotic side, their humour on the overt side, and their clothes on the designer / name side. It won't hurt if you fancy those food porn style descriptions that make you drool into your toast and jam as well.
In the MYSTERY OF THE MISSING MASTERPIECE, Private Investigator Cornelia Finnigan is back - recovering rapidly from her tangle with the novice nun, her brother Jeremy buys her a little token feel better gift (and paints her bathroom purple - but that's another story). Whilst Cornelia is trying to get back to real work - tailing plastic surgeons with a little more than wandering eyes and checking out a rather odd house burglary, she also finds herself having to sort out why lurking men seem to be very desperate to get their hands on her brothers trinket.
Most of the characters from the first book are back in MASTERPIECE (although I confess I'm worried that Kissiface, the Rottweiler, does have to cross his legs a lot and he never seems gets fed - to say nothing of poor Groucho!), but Riley is still trying to hint a bit of romantic interest in Cornelia (he might be better if he hit her over the head with the Cadbury Roses chocolates), Isobel still needs feeding up and Romeo has left the scene. Cornelia's father seems to have adapted very well to getting a house cleaner and having to look after himself a little more, and Cornelia is now more than ensconced in her inner-city apartment.
Of course this isn't a serious crime novel. It's light and downright silly in places and way too littered with designer clothes labels for those of us who think that Jimmy Choo's are probably model train sets; but those elements will undoubtedly appeal to lovers of the lighter, reading for pure entertainment style.
It's interesting that The Five Mile Press specialise in children's books, adult non-fiction and Australiana. They've done a tremendous job with the presentation of the Cornelia Finnigan books, the cover artwork is extremely stylish. Let's hope that they are looking to pick up more and different Australian Crime Fiction!
If you can - start in order with THE CURSE OF THE GOLDEN YO-YO, although THE MYSTERY OF THE MISSING MASTERPIECE will work as an introduction to our latest luckiest femme fatale PI and her slightly lunatic, inner-city chaotic chic life and full cast of supporting characters.
THE CURSE OF THE GOLDEN YO-YO - Robin Bowles
Meet Cornelia Finnigan, the loudest, loveliest and luckiest PI around.
With a swagger, a smile and a slash of lipstick she takes on the mystery of a torched Ferrari, investigates the case of the poisoned Pekinese puppies and stumbles into the world of missing persons, drug deals gone wrong, laundered money and murder.
And then there's Elvis, the tennis pro and a solid gold yo-yo to die for...
Well you just knew it had to happen - an Australian crime fiction book complete with recipes. And a VW named Henry, a Rottweiler named Kissiface, a cop named Riley, a purveyor of fine foods named Romeo, a canary named Groucho and a PI named Cornelia. Cornelia starts off life as chief cook and unpaid scivy for her ex-Military father. Good education aside, Cornelia longs for a more exciting life, so working as a PI Operative in the firm started by the son of the Italian family next door sounds much more interesting than teaching. Unfortunately the job seems to revolve around simple Insurance investigations and Cornelia's easily bored. A missing person case livens up life considerably. Angela had quite the life - very nice flat, lots of very nice possessions, nice clothes and she seems to have just vanished. Investigating what happened to her gets Cornelia into lots of hot water with the cops, the Mafia and her boss; as well as a very nice flat, some very nice possessions, a couple of very nice potential boyfriends and a golden yo-yo.
THE CURSE OF THE GOLDEN YO-YO is the first fictional crime book for well known local true crime author Robin Bowles and it's based on the short story that the author wrote (and won) for the Sisters in Crime Scarlet Stiletto Award for Best Private Investigator story in 2000. It is very light-hearted, downright silly in some places, and just pure entertainment (how could anything with a Rottweiler called Kissiface in it be anything else!). This book will undoubtedly remind readers of the Janet Evanovich Stephanie Plum series or the Liz Evans Grace Smith novels as it sort of sits somewhere in the vicinity of both of those styles. Readers should perhaps be warned though, THE CURSE OF THE GOLDEN YO-YO has one of those hanging endings - the sort that either intrigue or annoy depending upon your personal preference.
The next book - The Mystery of the Missing Masterpiece, co-incidentally, was released in Melbourne this week so I will definitely be keeping an eye out for it.