True Crime

True crime books sell. Few of them, however, are as well written as this book. John Shobbrook’s Operation Jungle is one of the most entertaining and gripping memoirs of law enforcement in Queensland that has been published by the University of Queensland Press. It is set during Joh Bjelke-Petersen’s controversial premiership (1968–87). Nostalgically recalling a time before the internet and mobile phones made the world a smaller place, John Shobbrook’s stories of solid detective work and police corruption are persuasive and well told.

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Drew Rooke begins A Witness of Fact in the viewing gallery of Adelaide’s Forensic Science Centre, his eyes scanning the stainless steel benchtops, scissors, ladles, a pair of ‘large, heavy-duty shears used for cutting through ribs’, and an arsenal of knives of different styles and sizes – ‘what you would see in a commercial kitchen’. The atmosphere is cool, sterile, and menacing. This is where disgraced forensic pathologist Colin Manock worked for thirty years. Given that this book is about Manock, the opening could be confused with scene-setting. But there is a deeper significance to the author’s choice of words, one that goes to the heart of his book: what transforms knives in a commercial kitchen into specialist tools of medical forensics? 

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Musing upon the art of biography, Virginia Woolf bemoaned the constraints that facts imposed on imagination. It is the most ‘restricted’ of all arts, she wrote, limited by ‘friends, letters and documents’. Yet these very restrictions can inspire creativity. Good biographers don’t just accumulate facts; they give us, in Woolf’s words, ‘the creative fact; the fertile fact; the fact that suggests and engenders’. Biography, done well, Woolf concluded, does ‘more to stimulate the imagination than any poet or novelist save the greatest’. By this definition, Julia Laite is indeed a superb biographer.

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Landholders are cutting, crushing, scraping, spraying, bulldozing, and burning native woodlands and grasslands. Displaced koalas are shot, their bodies dumped in smouldering stacks. Land values double. In 2012, the Turnbull family of Croppa Creek, in north-west New South Wales, bought a property knowing that clearing would be prohibited. Under the direction of patriarch Ian Turnbull, they started clearing before the contracts were signed. They cleared when they were prosecuted, they cleared the areas ordered to be remediated, they cleared as they awaited decision on a second set of charges. They were clearing on the day Turnbull shot and killed government compliance officer Glen Turner. Against this turmoil, Kate Holden forges a sanctuary for contemplation in The Winter Road, which raises questions about our relationships and responsibilities on this continent.

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Since 9/11 and all its attendant horrors, the story of the bomb that exploded outside Sydney’s Hilton Hotel early on the morning of 13 February 1978, killing three people and injuring nine others, has largely been cast aside. However, it is considered the worst terrorist act perpetrated on Australian soil. It had wide ramifications at the time, and murky issues still surround it.

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ABC journalist Steven Schubert’s first book, Mandatory Murder, could have been a definitive account of the bizarre sentencing of Zak Grieve for the murder of fellow Katherine resident Ray Niceforo in October 2011. To achieve this, it had to dig deeper and cover greater territory than existing accounts, including Dan Box’s mediocre documentary, The Queen & Zak Grieve, presented in six ‘webisodes’ on The Australian’s website.

Unfortunately, Mandatory Murder’s first 273 pages are given over to a fairly standard true-crime account – complete with shocksploitative details and police-style sardonic humour – of the investigation into Niceforo’s murder and the subsequent trials of Grieve, his mate Chris Malyschko, and Chris’s mother, Bronwyn Buttery (Niceforo’s partner). A third young man, Darren Halfpenny, separately pleaded guilty to murder. Although he doesn’t need to, Schubert seems to want to amplify the shock value; we even get gruesome colour photos supplied by police. True crime is a genre that often precludes illumination of the narratives of class and trauma that propel criminality in general, and this criminality in particular.

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Dan Box is a crime reporter for The Australian. In September 2014, Homicide Detective Chief Inspector Gary Jubelin contacted him to ask him to write about the murder of three Aboriginal children from Bowraville in 1990–91. Box later began a podcast about the murders that ...

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In a 2017 essay for the Guardian, author Charlotte Wood spoke about the shame artists often feel when they discover a distinguishing characteristic in their work, something that separates them from their cohort. ‘In the beginning, and for a long time, an artist can be most embarrassed by the very thing – sometimes the only ...

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A Scandal in Bohemia: The life and death of Mollie Dean is Gideon Haigh’s engrossing account of the circumstances surrounding the unsolved 1930 murder in Elwood of primary school teacher, aspiring journalist, and bohemian, Mollie Dean. Less true crime journalism than an interrogation of the genre, Haigh’s ...

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Last year, a trip to the Pentridge Prison grounds – what's left of them – gave me a hundred insights into the horrors of life in that institution: the close quarters, constant surveillance, poor sanitation, and dependence on interminable, senseless routine, an imagined reform through discipline. These insights gave only a small understanding of the rigours of in ...

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