No Turning Back, Joanne Lees

930696.jpgI wasn’t sure about this book.

I picked it up when I bought two others about the disappearance of Peter Falconio, but had second thoughts and put it back on the shelf.

Two weeks later and it was still there, so I decided to buy it.
I’m glad I did.

To others Falconio’s presumed murder, and the attempted abduction of Joanne Lees were merely a story to be told or a case to be solved.
To Joanne Lees it was personal experience. It was her life as she would never wish it to be.

This book gives a totally different perspective on the events surrounding Falconio’s disappearance, and what Lees experienced afterwards as she had to cope with the probable murder of her boyfriend, as well as the threat she faced from the assailant.
She then struggled to cope with media attention and the unhelpfulness of police, who seemed to have no idea of what to do with her, and apart from one or two exceptions, gave her no support as a victim.

She was also shocked to find herself under suspicion, openly in the press but more discreetly by some of the police.

I’ve read a lot of negative things about this book, but after reading it for myself I can say that the negative reaction is completely unfounded. I have to wonder what motivated those hostile reviews.

Lees’ account is a simple, unembellished telling of her experiences, from the early days of her travels with Falconio, through to the result of the court case where Bradley Murdoch was found guilty of Falconio’s murder.

Others have expressed doubts about Murdoch’s guilt, but Lees is certain that he was the one who killed her boyfriend and from whom she was able to escape beside a Northern Territory highway at night. I suppose only Murdoch can know for sure whether her memory and certainty are valid.

And Then the Darkness by Sue Williams

This is the second book I’ve read about the disappearance (and presumed murder) of English backpacker Peter Falconio.
I bought it at the same time that I picked up Dead Centre (see previous post)

darknessIt didn’t take long to know the direction this book would take. It loudly broadcast its lack of objectivity in the second chapter, saying of the man who was ultimately convicted of murdering Peter Falconio:

“Bradley John Murdoch was a mistake from the moment of conception”.

It’s a far different kind of book from the one written by Robin Bowles.

Bowles wrote from her own experience, reporting what others told her, and what she personally saw and heard. Although her own assumptions clearly colour how she recounts those experiences and her observations.

In the earlier part of her book Williams writes more in the style of a novel, from the viewpoint of an all seeing, all knowing narrator. While she most likely based her work on a lot of research, I find that kind of narrative voice can give a story a sense of authenticity and authority they possibly don’t deserve. A lot of authorial assumptions can be presented with the appearance of being fact rather than an imaginative interpretation of events and experiences.

For me, what is gained in “readability” is lost in trustworthiness, and my motivation to keep reading wasn’t there, despite the “easy-to-read” style. If I wanted crime fiction I have more than enough unread books of that genre on my shelves. I read this one hoping to get a more FACTUAL perspective.

The central event of the case, in which Falconio disappeared and Lees escaped abduction, is described partly from the point of view of the perpetrator, getting into his head. Considering the person convicted of being that perpetrator insists on his innocence, Williams clearly has not based that perpetrator’s point of view on interviews with the man who was actually there committing the crime. She has clearly made it up.

After this imagining of events, Williams does move on to reporting known events: from the police investigation through to the ultimate conviction of Bradley Murdoch. That latter part of the book seemed more objective than the earlier half, but for me the damage had already been done.

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.

__________________________

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.

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