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.