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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.
Flagged down by another driver indicating something is wrong with their camper van, Peter Falconio exits the van to investigate. As he moves to the rear of the vehicle, Lees hears what she at first thinks is a backfire of the engine. On an isolated stretch of highway in the Northern Territory, a man previously unknown to the couple takes the life of Peter and attempts to kidnap Joanne, tying her hands behind her and throwing her in the back of his utility. She escapes, spending five terrifying hours in scrub before managing to flag down a passing truck.
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.
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