Someone Else’s Daughter, Julia Sheppard

I could wish it was someone else’s daughter, but I can’t can I? They would then have to go through what we’re going through. (Garry Lynch, Anita’s father)

someone-else-s-daughterI have now read two books and seen two documentaries* about Anita Cobby’s murder,  and the effect it had on individuals close to her and wider Australian society.

I’ve seen there is a  third book available, but I’m not sure what more it could offer that wasn’t covered in Mark Morri’s Remembering Anita, or in this one.

Written by a journalist who followed the case closely, and developed a good relationship with Anita Cobby’s family, Someone Else’s Daughter gives a wider perspective to the story of Anita Cobby.

Sheppard looks at most aspects of the case, apart from the effects on Anita’s husband John. That isn’t surprising considering John shut himself off from the wider world and did what he could to avoid everything to do with the investigation and subsequent publicity surrounding his wife’s murder.

There is a brief mention of him at the beginning of the book, but some of the details given differ from those in John’s account of events. Sheppard says John was driving to Wollongong to see some friends when he heard on the radio about the discovery a woman’s body that he suspected could be that of his missing wife.

John’s own account, as reported in Mark Morri’s book, Remembering Anita, is that he was driving in the opposite direction, to the central coast where he and Anita had planned to meet up with John’s sister.

Sheppard also states that there was no chance of Anita getting back with John after they had separated, however John’s side of the story is that in the following week they had been planning on looking at a house where they could reconcile and resume their marriage.

These discrepancies could probably be attributed to the fact that John’s withdrawal into himself after the murder, also removed his opportunity to contribute to the inevitable narrative others would create without him.

Sheppard’s wider examination of this case gives the reader details of the police and how the case took a personal toll on some of them, putting strain on their marriages and even leading to the end of the career of at least one as they struggled to cope with what they’d witnessed. She also heads into territory that Morri avoided:  details of the five perpetrators and their background.

She writes about the dysfunction of their families and how the lives of the men who were ultimately convicted of the crime, had already shown a disregard for the law. One of them, John Travers,  had already boasted to others of violent rapes of men, women and animals , and in the case of the latter he had already violently killed the victim afterwards with a knife.

He was the only one of the five to plead guilty at trial. The others all claimed personal innocence and pointed the finger of blame at the other four. To me, the fact that three of that four were brothers – willing to throw their siblings “under the bus” – adds an even more unpalatable aspect to an already repugnant situation.

Sheppard doesn’t back away from reporting some of the brutal aspects of what Anita Cobby endured prior to her murder. But I suspect a lot has been held back (many years ago I heard rumours of some things that hadn’t been made known to the public). But who would want to imagine what she was subjected to? Any select descriptions or list of facts would be inadequate to convey the reality  – and would any of us really want to know more ?

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* I posted the better of the documentaries earlier on my blog. The other one is available on YouTube, but while it was interesting, I found it’s more graphic re-enactments of the crime a little unsavoury.

 

Remembering Anita Cobby, by Mark Morri

cobby.jpgThe murder of Anita Cobby shocked 1980s Australia, perhaps more than any other crime.

A young nurse, travelling home from her shift at a Sydney hospital didn’t make it home. She had caught the train from the city to Blacktown and then started walking from the station to her parent’s place.
Her body was found a few days later, naked and severely injured. Her throat had been brutally cut, almost decapitating her.

someone-else-s-daughter.jpgI came across this book when I was looking for a copy of Someone Else’s Daughter, an earlier account of the case. Gloria had read a borrowed copy of that book not long after Cobby’s murder.

Gloria was also a nurse who relied on public transport to and from work, having to walk to the bus stop each night to catch a bus to the hospital. Her interest in Cobby’s fate was understandable.

Remembering Anita Cobby looks beyond the case itself, for the first time giving John Cobby’s story. As Anita’s husband, John was the initial prime suspect – even if only for a short time. He has never recovered from his wife’s murder and the subsequent treatment he experienced.

Anita had been dragged from the street into a car while walking home from the train station. In the car she was  sexually abused and brutalised by its five occupants. They took her to a paddock, dragging her through a barbed wire fence, to a place where they raped her, and after realising she’d be able to identify them, murdered her.

Mark Morri developed a friendship with John Cobby starting when he spent three days interviewing him the year after Anita’s murder. Years later Mark and John agreed to this book being written as a tribute to Anita, telling John’s side of the story.

He had been incapable of telling it all those years ago but now he was as ready as he’d ever be. It would never be an easy process for someone who, thirty years later, was still dealing with the trauma he’d gone through.

The story of Anita Cobby’s murder was big news for several years, but throughout the telling of that story, there was rarely any reference to her husband John. Crippled by grief, he avoided everything related to the case as much as he could, trying to escape through drugs, by fleeing overseas, and even committing himself to a psychiatric facility. To avoid attention, he changed his name to John Francis.

After a while he remarried and had a family, but could never be freed from the memories, feelings of guilt and the nightmares associated with Anita, so the marriage eventually failed. His children were in their teens before they learned of their father’s relationship to Anita. That knowledge helped them understand things about John that they’d been seeing throughout their lives.

This is a “sneak peak” of a TV show I saw on the weekend. I’ll try to post the full version later in the week. Like the book it tells the Anita Cobby story without omitting the effect her murder had on her husband.

Remembering Anita details John struggles through grief and addiction and how he was eventually able to reclaim the name Cobby.

I mentioned above that Gloria had worked as a nurse, and therefore felt some affinity with Anita. John was also a nurse and had met Anita when they were working at the same Sydney hospital.

John continued nursing, and through this book I found out that at one time he worked (possibly as relieving agency staff) within the same ward of the same hospital on the same shift that Gloria usually worked at the time. Whether their paths ever crossed we don’t know.

Pietr the Latvian, by Georges Simenon

pietrInspector Maigret receives notification from the International Criminal Police Commission, an organisation that “oversees the struggle against organised crime in Europe”, that Pietr the Latvian has been sighted boarding a train heading for Paris, Maigret’s own territory.

Maigret waits at the station, equipped with a detailed description to help him recognise his target as he leaves the train. His stakeout is disrupted when a body, suffering a gunshot wound, is found on the train.
Is the victim the Latvian himself? Or could he be the victim of the man Maigret was seeking?

My introduction to Georges Simenon’s Maigret was through a recent TV programme with Rowan Atkinson playing the Paris detective, in what must be his most understated performance, showing his talent isn’t restricted to the often slapstick comedy of Mr Bean and Johnny English.

I came across this book in an almost hidden book warehouse in Canberra, where they had large numbers of more than a dozen different Maigret titles all priced quite cheaply.

I decided to buy the first two books in the Maigret series, Pietr the Latvian being the first, to see whether I liked them enough to buy more.

These books are different to the rest of my crime reading over the past year, being more of a “classic” – this one being written in 1930 originally in French, requiring a reading in translation.

I suppose one of the problems with translated works is the anglicisation of some terminology, or using an approximate British equivalent when describing something specifically French. I may be wrong to have such a response, but I found the first sentence of the book a little jarring when it referred to “Detective Chief Inspector Maigret of the Flying Squad” (my italics). It made me think of Denis Waterman and cockney accents from the old TV series The Sweeny.*

I’m not sure what I expected of my first experience with an almost 90 year old Inspector Maigret book. I’ve read “old” crime fiction (Agatha Christie) in the distant past, and knew the style would be different to the more modern stories I’ve been reading. I think the tone of the TV series also set the scene a little; very even, downplayed, almost drab – avoiding any hint of melodrama or heightened emotion. And that is how the story started, with a matter of fact depiction of Maigret following up a run of the mill case.

And then about halfway in, an event happens that releases the emotional restraints a little, as Maigret is left in no doubt of the seriousness of his investigation and the dangers it entails. I’d like to provide an example of the very vivid but controlled prose associated with that event, but wouldn’t be able to do so without resorting to “spoilers”. One thing I try to avoid when writing about a book is giving anything away that would rob other readers of  any surpises.

Overall, that section was the highlight of the book.

At times the story confused me. At other times its credibility lapsed.

Maigret not only followed the prime suspect, he continually made his own presence obvious. At one time sitting directly opposite his suspect, at the the same table, in a hotel dining room.

The story’s denouement adequately resolves a lot of the puzzles revealed earlier in the story, but I was disappointed with the path leading up to that conclusion.

At least I have Simenon’s second Maigret book, so I’ll have the chance to see if I find his story telling improved, and afterwards can decide whether I want to continue with the series beyond that second book.

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* From cockney rhyming slang, Sweeny Todd = Flying Squad.

 

White Nights, Ann Cleeves

White NightsShetland is an excellent TV series; one of my favourites. My interest in crime fiction was strongly influenced by it.

While watching the first series I was drawn to the  novels by Ann Cleeves upon which the series was based.

The TV version features Jimmy Perez, a detective whose life is complicated by a late-teen stepdaughter, Cassie.
One of the additional pleasures of Cleeves’ books is that they depict Perez when he first meets Cassie’s mother, Fran an artist, and Cassie is still a young girl. The two formats therefore cover a wider time period and because I saw the TV version first, the books seem to provide a backstory to the series.

White Nights starts with Perez’s first real date with Fran, at an exhibition of her art. That night out then leads to the discovery of a murder victim in shed near to the gallery.

This all happens mid-summer, within a period known in Shetland as the “simmer dim”, when the sun never really sets, resulting in a lingering half-light instead of a normal night darkness.

The thing I like most about this book is the depth of character, its vivid portrayal of landscape, and the journey it gives into Shetland life.

In my opinion, the richness throughout the book almost makes the concluding solution of the crime irrelevant. It’s not a book that puts all of its eggs into the “who-dunnit-basket”.

For me the resolution of a crime novel works best when the guilty party is revealed and the reader can then see how obvious that person’s guilt was – despite having not having seen it throughout the rest of the book. With White Nights, while  I found the conclusion plausible, I seem to have missed clues and reasoning  within the rest of the book, therefore for me it lacked that ultimate, satisfying, “of course, how could I have missed that” reaction.

 

Rusted Off by Gabrielle Chan

rusted-offGabrielle Chan is a writer for the Guardian who used to maintain the live political blog reporting the daily happenings in the Australian parliament.

In her book Rusted Off, she looks at the way Australian politics affects the people of her community, and by extension other country communities within Australia.

City based politics easily overlooks or misunderstands the needs of regional areas in communities that have a different life experience to the larger (majority) populations of the major cities.

As someone who moved to a country town about 12 years ago, I’ve seen both sides of the picture and from the moment I heard about this book I was interested in reading what Chan had to say. She also moved from city to country, but about a decade before my move, and as a political correspondent reporting directly from parliament, her personal and work experience give her a broad insight into the political process and it’s relationship with rural Australia.

My desire to read her book increased when I found out she lives on a farm outside the small country town(s) of Harden-Murrumburrah in Western New South Wales.

It’s a place I know quite well. I drive through it regularly and I’ve stopped off on many occasions for coffee, to view it’s Australian Light Horse Memorials, and to look through the shelves of a second hand book shop (now unfortunately closed).

One particular issue that hit a personal chord of recognition related to the availability of opportunity. It’s not something restricted to regional Australia, but away from cities the logistical practicalities prevent many opportunities from being accessible. For example, in a country High School with a senior year of 10 or less students, there won’t be the same subject options available to a city school with a final year of 100.
That restriction of opportunity isn’t then limited to the practical. Chan writes of a family’s support for their son. They did what they could to aid his success, but

“They had no lived experience of what he would be facing, or the opportunities that may present, so while they were proud, they didn’t know what to do with it. ‘It’s very hard to have aspirations for your child if you yourself don’t know that part of the world'”.

That is something I can relate to myself. My family was shaped by a background of mining in a semi-rural area of England. While we moved to an Australian city just as I entered my teens, that family experience and background continued to have its effect. No one in my wider family had ever been to university, and possibly because of that the idea of further study after High School was never considered. Instead the goal was to get a job, find a wife, have a family, and repeat the path taken by my parents, grand parents, and aunts and uncles. There was no thought of “career paths” or aiming for work that meant more than merely earning a livable wage to buy a house and support a wife and kids.

It was a decade or so later, after that family dream hadn’t worked out as planned, that the possibility of other opportunities arose and I eventually thought of University, an option that was more viable at the time because I lived in a city with a significant University presence (and it’s major employer at the time).

But what about those communities that don’t have such easy access to a University Campus where tertiary education requires moving away from home and family?

Chan  addresses  many other issues differentiating country from city and that seeing those differences through ill-informed stereotypes is counterproductive.
A case in point is perceiving country people as one particular type, overlooking the variety of people groups that make up a regional community; that not everyone’s concerns and interests are the same. Country communities are made up of people across a wide spectrum, including wealthy (and not so wealthy) landowners, business people, labourers, tradies, and the unemployed. The question is, to what extent does the political system give representation to that wide cross section of people.

She writes of a “neglected class”, a group she identifies as comprising of:

the people who service the farms, look after the very young and the very old, keep the schools going, keep the hospitals running, do the council work (in the streets as opposed to sitting as councillors), stock the supermarket shelves. The neglected class are the very foundation of country towns, and you don’t hear about them from most rural MPs.

The neglected class feel they have no sway over governments or politicians, and they feel inadequately represented by the media…

… if you consider the agenda of the major parties, the neglected class are mostly disregarded…

The neglected class are breaking away from the majors because they feel taken for granted by the conservatives and ignored by Labor.

I regularly follow the political commentary on the Guardian news website, and there are common reader comments criticising farmers and country residents for voting in National Party MPs who represent a party that has often supported policies and philosophies (eg climate change denial) contrary to the interests of rural areas.
However as a resident of a country town I recognise the dilemma faced when voting.
Do you vote for the known, respected, local person standing for a party that is not as representative as it ought to be?

Or do you vote for an unknown candidate about whom you know nothing, put forward as a token representative with little publicity, representing a party who ought to be a better political fit?

The option increasingly taken is to look elsewhere, and the outcome is an increased vote for independents and minor parties, as seen in recent State by-elections.

The Shrouded Path

the-shrouded-pathI discovered Sarah Ward at a good time: when she’d only published two books.

That made it easier to start at the beginning of her work and not fall behind in my reading as new books were released. Since that initial discovery, she has added two more volumes to her DC Childs series.

In each of Ward’s books a crime in the present has links to events in the past.

Ward refers to this in a recent article.

My crime novels set in the Derbyshire Peaks usually have two timelines. I’m fascinated by crimes which have a long gestation, old hurts that simmer away for years, even decades, until they explode into violence.

http://www.crimetime.co.uk/sarah-wards-the-shrouded-path-what-is-it-about-the-1950s/

In the same article Ward says this about her most recent book:

…in The Shrouded Path. Six girls walk into a railway in the 1950s and only five emerge. The act of violence which takes place in the tunnel has reverberations up to the present day

The sense of time and place is what continues to draw me to Ward’s books. Those elements are common traits of the crime fiction I want to read and is why Ward is among a group of favoured authors I’ve been reading.