Dead Centre by Robin Bowles

dead-centreI’ve had a couple of Robin Bowles books for a while, but this is the first I’ve read. I’m not sure why I haven’t started any of the others yet, but this one gives me clear encouragement to do so.

The first book of hers that I bought was Death on the Derwent, about the disappearance of Bob Chappell and the subsequent conviction of his partner, Sue Neill-Fraser for his murder.

When I bought it I’d only recently finished Colin McLaren’s book Southern Justice, and the TV documentary Undercurrent about the same case, so I probably needed a break from it before starting Bowles’ book on the same subject.

I found this book on the weekend while I was looking for one about the Belanglo Forest “backpacker murders”. I found the book I was looking for, and for some reason I decided to get this one too. I’m not sure why, but I’m glad that I did.

It’s a book that I was reluctant to put down, even though my work day sadly made that necessary.

Bowle’s account is a well paced, well constructed journey through her research and investigation into the disappearance of Peter Falconio and the attempted abduction of his girlfriend Joanne Lees.

She interviewed most of the major players in the investigation as well as a number of meetings with Bradley Murdoch, the man who stood trial and was eventually convicted of Falconio’s murder, visiting him in jail while he was awaiting trial.

The official story is that Lees and Falconio were driving between Alice Springs and Darwin. According to Lees their trip was interrupted when the driver of a white 4WD truck pulled alongside and warned them about a problem with their Kombi van.

While Falconio was checking their vehicle, Lees heard a loud bang and was then confronted by a man with a handgun beside her. She was bound and bundled into the man’s truck, but somehow managed to escape and hide in the scrub alongside the road.

Falconio has never been seen since.

There are many inconsistencies in that official story. These are addressed in Bowles’ book. One that stands out to me is that Lees described her attacker as a man of average height and build, with longish hair.

Bradley Murdoch, the man eventually found guilty of the murder of Falconio and the attempted kidnapping of Lees, is six feet five tall (approx. 195cm) who always had closely cropped hair.

The assailant also reportedly had a blue healer dog as a companion – Murdoch’s had a dalmatian, a dog of distinctly  different appearance.

healer.jpg

Blue Healer

dalmatian

Dalmatian

 

 

 

 

 

 

Although Lees was reportedly pushed into the truck along side the assailant’s dog, no trace of dog hair was found on her clothing, despite both healers and dalmatians being notorious hair shedders.

Lees also claimed to have escaped by crawling through a gap in the truck seats, and out across the covered back tray, dropping from the rear of the truck onto the road. No trucks of the type described were found with that access from the cab to the rear tray.

These and other details in this book bring into question the official story, and left me in no doubt that Murdoch is probably in jail for a crime he didn’t commit.

A podcast including interview with Robin Bowles about the case. [The presenters of this podcast include his warning: “please be advised this episode contains graphic content”].

I have another two books about this case and will be interested to see how two different authors approach this case.

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One minor quibble (or puzzle) – Bowles gives a story of the difficulty she had finding the Dymock’s bookshop in George Street Sydney, where Lees had worked prior to the journey she took through Central Australia with Peter Falconio.

I was very familiar with the shop. I was a frequent visitor to it when I lived and worked in Sydney, and it was in a very prominent central location, easy to find. And the description she gives of the shop after she eventually found it isn’t of the main Dymock’s store which had a wide display window and street level access to the main shop area.

Her description seems more like the Angus and Robertson book shop that used to be in the Pitt Street mall, parallel to George Street. The A & R Shop had a street level display window, but the shop itself was accessed from the mall via descending stairs.

I had also been a frequent visitor to A & R during the late 90s.

I have vague recollection of a secondary Dymocks closer to Circular Quay, but can’t remember whether that one was in George Street, but I think that one was also a street level store, not one accessed by stairs.

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Genre Eclectica

“I beg your forgiveness for this unexpected change to the evening’s proceedings. but we find ourselves confronted with the urgent need to conduct an impromptu séance for reasons of national security.”

feaster.jpgThe Feaster From the Stars by Alan K. Baker is a strange blend of multiple genres.

It is a science fiction/  horror/ mythic/ Faerie/ occult/ crime story set in a Victorian era, where new technologies have been borrowed from alien civilisations.

It’s a Victorian England, compatible with Wells’ War of the Worlds, where both Mars and Venus are inhabited, and their citizens have made their mark on earth.

Many Victorian “interests” collide within the book, which seems to be written in, and inspired by, the  style of the macabre literature of that time.

I first came across this book via an ad for The Martian Ambassador, another novel by Baker. When I followed that book up with local book sellers, I saw this one also on sale, for around half price.
I ordered both and this one was delivered first. They are parts of a “Blackwood and Harrington” series.

After starting to read this book, I realised it was the more recent of the two, with several semi-spoilers for the other book being revealed throughout this story.

Thomas Blackwood, Special Investigator from Queen Victoria’s Bureau of Clandestine Affairs, is sent to investigate strange events in the London Underground railway, assisted by Lady Sophia Harrington, secretary of the Society for Psychical Research and Detective Gerhard de Chardin from the Metropolitan Templar Police.

Rail workers report an increase in ghostly activity throughout the rail tunnels, and a train driver has an encounter that leaves his mind broken, and he is committed to the Bethlem Hospital. The only clue to what he experienced is his utterance of the word “Carcosa”.

Blackwood recalls this is the name of a mythical place in literature. A place that the investigators discover is actually a planet in a distant star system.

A link between the underground events is made to Carcosa, from which there is an approaching, imminent danger to the earth .

Aided by psychics. mediums and occult scholars, as well as Faery royalty, the investigators have the challenge of saving earth and countless other civilisations from a powerfully destructive entity known as The King in Yellow.

I thought the blending of science fiction and crime investigation, with a dash of ghostliness would make a compelling story. However, while the book was relatively easy to get through, I found too many genres swirled together with almost every kind of supernatural character imaginable (aliens, faeries, ghosts, angels…) made for an overall, disappointing reading experience.

A third story in the series was also published but it seems to be very hard to obtain. It must be out of print. Second hand copies are available however they aren’t cheap, but after reading this one, I wouldn’t be interested in it anyway.

This book and the one before it (The Martian Ambassador – which is still on order) will be more than enough for me.

Steven

Song 24 of my “31 Songs”.

From the Welcome to My Nightmare album.

I often listened to this in my university days while I was writing stories for my creative writing course.

I heard this song again after seeing the Alice Cooper interview I posted about a week ago.

 

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Green Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson

Green MarsThis is science fiction with the emphasis on the “science”.

Robinson is either a polymath, able to weave countless obscure, genuine scientific concepts into his work, or he’s incredibly inventive, able to create plausible (though fictional) ideas into the narrative of his books.

Or maybe there’s a combination of the two at work.

For me his science (actual or imagined) tends to get in the way of story-flow. To others with a harder scientific leaning that is probably not a problem, but even though I have an aptitude for science (albeit not exercised for a while), as I read the book I long for more story and fewer scientific labels and references.

Apart from having familiarity with the many geological and botanical references used, it may be helpful to read the book with an atlas of Mars at hand. But then, I’d have to ask which places are genuine and which are fictional before trying to follow journeys along invented landmarks.

As I write this I’m about a quarter of the way through and on my second stint of reading it after already taking a few week’s break from the book. I’m being tempted to put it down again, but want to persevere for as long as I can. Hopefully I can finish it before the end of the year, but I suspect I’ll be turning to another book or two before I get there.

Along with the science, Robinson dives deeply into the likely politics of an earth suffering the stress of increasing population and decreasing resources, and a Mars with the potential to ease both. But who should make the decisions, who should be in control?
The nations who initiated the exploration and colonisation?
Or the commercial entities who have become more powerful and wealthy than nation states?
And what about the settlers, and subsequent generations of Mars residents, whose links with earth grow increasingly distant?

With this series (this is the second volume) Robinson demonstrated significant optimism in his timetable for the visiting and colonising of Mars. That optimism continues in the degree and speed of technological advancement portrayed in the books. To me the series’ main failing is giving its events dates, such as first man on Mars in 2020, and the beginning of colonisation in 2026.
The series could have been made more plausible by avoiding an out-dateable timeline.

Alongside this fictional account of man’s exploration and exploitation of Mars, I’ve been listening to NASA podcasts about the work being done in their space program with the intention of a crewed mission to the red planet. One of those podcasts in particular highlights the extreme difficulty of going to Mars, (Mars is hard, here’s why) that further emphasises the optimism of the author’s timetable.

mars

Half a World Away by Mike Gayle

half worldMike Gayle concentrates on relationships and their difficulties.

Meeting new people.
Falling in love.
Trying to maintain love.
Falling out of love.
Love of girl or boyfriend.
Love of husband or wife.
Love of children.
Love of family.
And the heartbreak when that love ends or is not reciprocated.

He manages to capture and communicate the familiar, things with which I strongly identify.

Sleepless nights when the mundane and insignificant becomes exaggerated in importance:

In the dark everything seems so much worse than it really is; even the smallest thing seems like a mountain you’ve got to climb. I tried telling myself that I was just tired, blowing things out of all proportion, and that everything would seem better in the morning, but what use is that when the morning’s so far away?

In the middle of the night, waiting for daylight feels like forever, a forever where you’re stuck going over every bad thought in your head with a fine-tooth comb.

Or those times of self-doubt, feeling that your intentions may be misunderstood, and that no matter what you say, or how you say it, it will be misinterpreted and received in the wrong way.

I reread the message twice. It looks okay to me but I think about sending it to Jodi to check it over for me, just to be on the safe side. In the end I tell myself not to be so silly, read it through one last time just to make sure it makes sense, and then press send.
For a minute I feel good.
Then for another I’m sick with nerves.
Then for another after that, I’m convinced I’ve said the wrong thing.

mike gaylePerhaps its this familiarity in Gayle’s stories that gives me a feeling of authenticity through which I can believe in the characters and their experiences.

There are some complex and difficult relationships in Half a World Away. Noah Martineau’s marriage is breaking apart. He is reunited with Kerry, a sister he didn’t know he had. And he’s forced to face the forgotten past he’d tried to avoid.

Despite feeling a little exasperated by the apparent unreasonableness of one character, I had to recognise such characteristics ARE displayed by real people in real life, and conflict isn’t always rational: ultimately that’s something the particular character comes to recognise for themself.

I’ve been a Mike Gayle fan for a couple of decades (and maybe more).
I can always rely on him for an entertaining, moving, page-turning reading experience; often with at least a hint of humour.

There’s an intentional simplicity to Gayle’s writing. He writes with clarity, not obscuring the story and his characters with complex language to show off authorial cleverness.

While I can enjoy poetic wordsmith authors who can demonstrate a clever evocative turn of phrase, if their kind of books were all that were available, I think my love of reading would eventually fade.
Mike Gayle is an author I confidently turn to when I need to rekindle that love.

 

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Author photo from: https://www.hachette.com.au/mike-gayle/

For more see his website: mikegayle.co.uk

Already Dead, Stephen Booth

already deadAlready Dead travels down multiple, seemingly unrelated story paths.

A possible murder investigation.

An adulterous relationship.

DS Ben Cooper on extended personal leave.

Dianne Fry seconded back to Edendale to replace him.

The events of the previous book have taken a serious toll. Cooper is unfit for work and has become reclusive, worrying his work colleagues.
While they investigate the suspicious death, Cooper conducts a more personal investigation that could lead to the end of his career. Or worse.

Booth takes the reader on this varied journey and then somehow is able to bring the seeming unrelated theads together in a surprising conclusion.

Even a good turn can have unexpected deadly consequences.

I particulalry like the following brief exchange between a potential witness and DS Fry.

Baird seemed to notice the hovering youth outside for the first time, and gestured to him irritably. The young man came in and handed him the file without a word.

‘Thank you, Aaron,’ he said.
He waited until the boy had gone, and grimaced at Fry. ‘Aaron, I ask you. Why do so many parents give their kids these ridiculous biblical names?’

Fry hesitated. ‘Perhaps they’ve never read the Bible and wouldn’t know a biblical name when they heard one, Nathan.’

‘You’re probably right. Ignorance is everywhere.’

Unlike previous books in this series there were no significant music references, however a historical note caught my attention and led me to investigate further to find out more. I wrote a bit about this in my previous post: the 1973 murder of Wendy Sewell in the Bakewell churchyard.