Double Lives, Kate McCaffrey
Harrowing and insightful, DOUBLE LIVES by Kate McCaffrey is a very topical exploration of issues around gender, identity, acceptance and truth. There is, for some readers, some confrontational and topical subject matter being addressed here, revolving as it does around the murder of transgender woman Casey Williams, her self-confessed killer (and love interest) Jonah Scott, and a radio station opting to use their story as the opening foray into an ongoing true crime serial.
After a Perth Radio station decides to air some sort of serial programme that would win back their flagging drive-time ratings, 'Strange Crime' by Amy Rhinehart is selected. What is not quite a traditional radio series, more a podcast, with listener input and immediate feedback, the series is made up of episodes covering aspects of Rhinehart and assistant Sarah's investigation into what seemed to all to be a done and dusted murder case. When Casey was found after her body had been concealed in a river, her boyfriend Jonah Scott immediately confessed. Choosing not to take the option of the legal defence of "transsexual panic" and never really explaining what happened or why he killed Casey, he went to jail for a maximum sentence and seemed resolute in his acceptance of guilt.
With echoes of a case from a decade ago, Rhinehart and her producers think there is something not quite right about all of this. The police investigation was perfunctory at best, their willingness to accept the offender at face value, has the feeling of convenience about it. There's something screaming "cover-up" about it, after all it's not like the police haven't been involved in exactly that sort of thing many many times before.
Scott was a member of a secretive religious community at the time, along with his father (the leader of the sect) and brothers. The sect had some very out their beliefs, and Casey's death was violent and confrontational. Is he really guilty or is he covering up for someone else, or is everyone covering up something bigger, and considerably more sinister?
McCaffrey has walked a careful line here with considerable aplomb. DOUBLE LIVES explores some very complex subjects for some - gender identity, extreme religious beliefs and complex family interactions are all part of the mix in this novel. As is the relationship that so many people have with true crime exposes, as the narrative switches between Rhinehart's investigative steps, and transcripts of the program as delivered over the airwaves.
The basic premise of DOUBLE LIVES is a tricky one though, and the questions around why Casey died, and what Scott claims are the reasons, may seem like the story of an open-and-shut murder case, with a confession, an offender in jail for life, and no sudden professions of innocence or extenuating circumstances. Into this an outsider steps, with their only knowledge of the case initially being written records, but via the medium of interviewing the victim's family, the perpetrator, and members of their family, they build a picture to ... what? It's the what or where DOUBLE LIVES is heading that will have readers transfixed and hopefully considering how unnecessarily complicated life can be when some choose control of others over acceptance.
This established WA-based writer examines notions of truth, gender, identity and acceptance in a compelling novel about a cold-case podcast.
Truth is like a lens we apply to everything we see, it is malleable and transformative, we can bend it, mould it, shape it, vanish it. We do this to present the versions of ourselves we want the world to see, and to hide the versions we can't bear to reveal.
Newly returned to Western Australia, journalist Amy Rhinehart pitches a crime podcast to increase her radio station's ratings. Her idea: to use the listeners of the show as its co-creators, with live-time calls and suggestion boards. The case: Jonah Scott, charged and imprisoned for life for the murder of his girlfriend, transgender woman Casey Williams. Jonah went to great lengths to hide the body - but when arrested, confessed immediately and pleaded guilty, negating the need for a trial. Amy believes there is something darker at the heart of this case and sets about finding the truth, investigating a world of drugs, sex, gender identity and religious cults.
Threaded through the main narrative, the podcast transcripts represent a story-within-a-story, exploring the characters of Jonah and Casey and the relationship between them, interwoven with Amy's investigation into the cult run by Jonah's family and its potential involvement in Casey's murder.