'Like a Thief in the Night' by Michelle de Kretser (Afterword to the Text Classics edition of The Suburbs of Hell by Randolph Stow)

My copy of The Suburbs of Hell (1984) is a handsome Heinemann first edition salvaged, like so many treasures, from a remainder tray. The dust jacket features a golden hourglass and type on a sky-blue ground: the colours Fra Angelico favoured for the vaults of heaven. A travel card that served as my bookmark is still tucked away in its pages; the date-punch informs me that I first read the book in October 1985.

Whenever I want to re-read the novel I have difficulty locating it. I know the shelf it sits on – not an especially crowded one – but my eye keeps gliding past the book. When I finally isolate it, the glorious blue and gold always brings a little jolt. I’ve been looking for a black jacket, one that matches my recollection of a devastating tale.

Randolph Stow dedicated his ninth and last novel to William Grono, an old friend from Western Australia, ‘twenty years after “The Nedlands Monster”’. The Nedlands Monster was a serial killer, Eric Edgar Cooke, who murdered eight people in Perth and attempted to murder many more. In one horrific night in 1963 Cooke shot five people, among them the teenage brother of a friend of Stow’s. Stow was out of the country at the time but returned shortly afterwards to a city gripped by rumour and fear. The Suburbs of Hell bears witness to the hold of these events on the novelist’s imagination, as well as to the imaginative alchemy that has transformed a murder hunt into something far more rich and strange.

Read the rest of this article by subscribing to ABR Online for as little as $10 a month.

We offer a range of subscription options, including print, which can be found by clicking here. If you are already a subscriber, enter your username and password in the ‘Log In’ section in the top right-hand corner of the screen.

If you require assistance, contact us or consult the Frequently Asked Questions page.

Michelle de Kretser

Michelle de Kretser

Michelle de Kretser is the author of The Rose Grower (1999), The Hamilton Case (2003), The Lost Dog (2007), and Questions of Travel (2012). She has won many prizes, including the Miles Franklin Award and the Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Fiction.

Leave a comment

Please note that all comments must be approved by ABR and comply with our Terms & Conditions.

NB: If you are an ABR Online subscriber or contributor, you will need to login to ABR Online in order to post a comment. If you have forgotten your login details, or if you receive an error message when trying to submit your comment, please email your comment (and the name of the article to which it relates) to ABR Comments. We will review your comment and, subject to approval, we will post it under your name.