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.