betrayedBetrayed by Clive Small and Tom Gilling, is a disturbing book about two undercover police officers, posing as drug dealers, assigned to investigate the drug trade, including the involvement of corrupt police.

Joe and Jessie are left too long in the stressful job, with no emotional support from their employers. Their physical and mental health suffers and their integrity is challenged by those who should have stood by them.

They later find themselves being ordered to invesigate some of NSW Police’s most senior officers, including a deputy commisioner (Clive Small, one of the book’s authors) and the police commisisoner, Peter Ryan, himself. All of that seemingly outside of offical channels for no substantiated reason.

Eventually, facing spurious charges, Joe’s career is brought to an end, unless he can successfully fight the accusations he faces. However, the stressful demands of his many years of undercover service have weakened his resolve.

Betrayed is a very apt title for this book, exposing many types of betrayal associated with the police services of both NSW and Queensland. Betrayal of the citizens the police are supposed to protect, with corrupt officers perverting the law through criminal involvement; and the betrayal of police staff who are denied reasonable resources to do their job.

But most significantly in this story, those betrayed were Joe and Jessie who paid a heavy price for their devotion to their work.


Is by Joan Aiken


Joan Aiken’s Wolves chronicles are set in a Dickensianesque,  England, in which the Stuarts had repelled a Hanoverian takeover of the monarchy.

The series started with The Wolves of Willoughby Chase and continued in Black Hearts in Battersea. The second of those books introduced Dido Twite who becomes the main character in the series until this book.

Dido’s younger sister Isabettecommonly known as Is, was introduced in Dido and Pa. She now  gets a story of her own. in which she shows the same kind of resourcefulness previously demonstrated by her older sister Dido.

The inventive language of Aiken’s characters is a joy to read. The Twite girls’ unique vocabulary is a highlight of the books and adds the authenticity of a world not quite our own, stemming from an alternate history.

After promising her dying uncle that she’ll go to London to find her missing cousin, Is becomes aware that throughout the city, children have been disappearing, and she takes on the task of finding out what is happening to them, hoping to find her  cousin in the process.

One thing struck her at once, and this was how very few children there were to be seen, in comparison with the days when she had lived in London. She recalled then, that on her household errands through the streets, children had been everywhere, swarming like ants: ragged sharp-eyed brats, the active ones earning pennies by holding horses, or sweeping the mud from street crossings, running messages, picking pockets, shouting their small shabby wares, bundles of matches or bunches of cress; and sick, shrunken, starved ones sitting listlessly on doorsteps or curled under bridges, waiting for death to come and solve their problems.

But now all these seemed to have vanished  altogether. In London there were hardly any children visible; the hurrying crowds in the streets were all adults, going about their adult affairs.

Croopus, where have all the kinchins got to? Is asked herself. It sure is a mystery! Funny no one’s wondered about it sooner. Nobody cares above half, I reckon. Streets look tidier without kids all about. Some folks likes it better that way, I daresay.

Is finds herself uniquely placed to investigate the mystery of disappearing children by joining their ranks, accepting an invitation to board a monthly train to “Playland”, with over two hundred other children trying to escape the hardship and poverty of their lives in London.

The train takes them into the new northern kingdom of Humberland ruled over by Gold Kingy where play will be the last thing its young cargo will experience.



For more about Aiken and her work:


The Stranger You Know, by John Suter-Linton

strangerLast week I wrote a “prelude” related to The Stranger You Know. At that time I’d ordered the book online from a secondhand book seller. I think it would be long out of print, having been published in 1997.

The book has the subtitle: “The Mysteries behind the Kim Barry murder” and it gives details of events around the 1981 murder of Wollongong teenager Kim Barry.

Her headless and fingerless body was found in bushland immediately beneath the Jamberoo Lookout, south of Wollongong, NSW, from where it had been dumped.

Within this case there are two different stories. The police case states that Kim Barry left a Wollongong night club with Graham Potter. They went back to his flat, where Potter killed her and mutilated her body, possibly to make identification harder. Potter then dumped her body, and after a few days went into hiding.

Potter’s version attributes the killing and mutilation to two men who pushed their way into his home not long after he’d arrived there with Kim. He claims that while at the nightclub she had told him she was afraid of two men who had been following and harassing her. She went with Potter to his flat so she could tell him the full story. Not long after arriving home, Potter answered a knock on the door and the two men forced their way inside, demanding to speak to Kim alone.

Potter claims he went upstairs, and after hearing a lot of noise, he investigated and saw the men beside Kim’s body in the lounge room. The men threatened him to ensure his silence and then told him to return to the night club and act as if nothing had happened.

Hours later, Potter returned home assuming the men had taken Kim’s body away. The next morning however the men came back, revealing that her body had been placed in his spare bedroom. They then forced Potter into the bathroom to witness the mutilation of Kim’s body, then left him alone, telling him to dispose of her.

Not long after dumping Kim’s body and possessions at separate sites, her body was discovered and Potter went into hiding, later claiming he was fearful of another visit from the two men. He hoped that police would solve the killing, jail the men, and make it safe for him to return home. While away he eventually found out that the police were looking for him, so he returned home to reveal the truth and clear his name.

I recall that in the years after Potter’s murder conviction and sentencing, that there was some controversy about the case, and attempts were made by his family to promote Potter’s innocence. The book goes into Potter’s alternative story and the campaign to reverse the conviction in some depth. Some of the more prominent people brought on board by Potter had previously been involved in overturning Lindy Chamberlain’s conviction. They were persuaded that Potter was also innocent.

It seems the author had access to personal correspondence from Potter to his family, as well as various versions of the statements Potter made over the years regarding the events surrounding Barry’s murder. The author includes some of these letters as well as lengthy quotes from Potter’s accounts of his story, and mentions how they’ve changed over the years, seemingly to fit new evidence that had been uncovered. For example, Potter originally claimed that Kim had opened her purse to show him that she had no money to pay a taxi fare, and he was annoyed that he had to pay it for her.

Several years later her purse and other belongings had been found, and the purse contained 2 x two dollar bills (the exact amount that a friend of Kim’s had mentioned in interviews soon after the murder) so Potter’s later version changed to say he’d seen a dollar or two in her purse when she’d shown him the contents.

In my mind, the validity of Potter’s story hinges on claims of Kim Barry’s involvement in the drug world. Several stories about that involvement were presented with supporting witness testimony. However the reliability of those witnesses and their stories was found to be questionable, having close connections to Potter and his family.

Police could find no evidence that Kim had any involvement with drug use, drug trafficking or any other connection to illicit drugs.

Other questionable parts in Potter’s story relate to the time he was ‘in hiding”. He said he had flown from Hobart to Christchurch in New Zealand, so had no idea the police were looking for him. He later gave a detailed account of places he’d been, jobs he’d done and people he’d met. The majority of those details were easily proven to be untrue, casting doubt on him going to New Zealand  at all, and thereby undermining his claim to have not been aware of Australian media reports about police wanting to question him.

It would be so easy to comment on many other aspects of the case and address the potential strengths and seeming weaknesses of Potter’s claims, but I don’t want to end up rewriting the whole book as a blog post.

Potter was released from jail after a relatively short time, considering the brutality of the murder, and I recall seeing him not long afterwards at a shopping mall.

Two decades after his release, he is now listed by police as Australia’s most wanted man, for reasons separate from the Kim Barry murder. In recent years he has allegedly been involved in major drug crimes and conspiracy to murder. While on bail for charges related to these crimes, he disappeared, with occasional reports of sightings in places ranging from Griffith NSW, up to places in Queensland.

Was this later crime involvement a reflection of the kind of man Potter has always been? Or was it a result of his time in jail and the kind of people he befriended while incarcerated?

I suggest the first option is the case, and Potter has racked up a lengthy list of victims, starting with Kim Barry, her parents and brother, then including his own family and wife who also suffered significantly through their misplaced trust in their son and husband.



For an overview of events see here:

and here:


2 + 2 = Variety

Two books plus two films, a diversity of genres and forms, with little in common: all in a weekend’s “work”.

caedmonOn Saturday I finished the last 30 or 40 pages of Peter Robinson’s Caedmon’s Song.
Kirsten is making her way home after celebrating the completion of her studies at a northern university. She wakes in hospital after suffering a horrific attack.
As the months pass, during her slow recovery, several young students are murdered, presumably by the same attacker.
There is pressure to break through the suppression of her memories of her own attack, in the hope of identifying the man and bring his killing to an end.

Alongside Kirsten’s story the book also follows Martha Browne, visiting the northern coastal town of Whitby, claiming to be researching a book, but keen to keep to herself as she plans for some kind of mission aided by her “spirit guides”.

Robinson said that the book was partly inspired by the case of the Yorkshire Ripper, and the question of how a surviving victim of a serial killer might respond to their survival and recovery.

lady Later on Saturday I started reading Lady in Waiting another book that alternates between two stories. In the present day Jane Lindsay is struggling with the seeming breakdown of her marriage, when her husband takes a job in a another city.
In the past there is the story of Lucy Day, a young seamstress working for Lady Jane Grey.

The two stories are brought together by the discovery of a ring hidden in the spine of a centuries old prayer book bought as stock for Jane’s antique shop.
The title “Lady in Waiting”, could be applied to Jane Lindsay, waiting for her husband’s return to the marriage; to Lucy Day, waiting on her Lady Jane; or to Lady Jane herself, waiting to find out the future planned for her by her family.

I’ve had a five decade interest in Lady Jane Grey since I read or heard about her as a pre-teen in the late 1960s. She is the forgotten first Queen of England, whose reign lasted just over a week.
She was the chosen successor of the Protestant Edward VI who wanted to deny his Roman Catholic sister Mary from taking the throne after his death. Jane, Edward’s cousin, was an educated and devout Christian in regular correspondence with leading protestant theologians in Europe.

Mary’s military support made Jane’s position untenable and Jane was executed on Mary’s orders early the following year, at the age of 16.

Swallows_and_Amazons_(2016_film)Swallows and Amazons is a classic children’s book that I’ve never had the opportunity to read.
A year or two ago I started to watch an old film version of the story, but lost interest only half an hour in.

On Saturday Gloria bought this new version on DVD, A wonderful film in which the Walker children face dangers, imagined and real, during a holiday in the Lake District of northern England.
They sail their boat “Swallow” to a an island to camp out for the night, but find the island has already been claimed by the “Amazons”, a group of locals.

As the rivalry between the Swallows and the Amazons intensifies, they find themselves being drawn to work together to face a more serious, common enemy.

Set in the 1930s, it s story that wouldn’t translate to a present day setting, where children would be discouraged from pursuing risky outdoor adventure, even if they could be torn away from the digital adventures pursued in the comfort and safety of their own homes.


downsizingDownsizing is another film Gloria found on Saturday morning.
I wasn’t really interested in seeing it, and almost halfway into the film I was wondering why I’d bothered.

As the human population increases the harm it does to the planet, scientists discover a way to “downsize” people and animals – basically shrink them to a fraction of their natural size.
This is seen as a potential life-saver for the planet. Reduce the population in size and reduce the consumption of resources as well as reduce the resulting waste footprint.

The major enticement to encourage potential recruits for the project is the promise of more affluent lives in custom made small communities. Current basic finances convert to the equivalent of millions of dollars in a community where a few metres of land are the equivalent of several acres when the scale difference is taken into account and the “downsized” people can live in mansions that would previously been the size of a doll house.

The first part of the film concentrates on the wonders associated with the downsizing opportunities, using some interesting special effects to show the interaction between people of vastly different scales. Downsizing is presented as a favourable option with no down-side; apart from one or two hints that its outcome may not fully be what it is presented to be.

There are occasional hints of political unrest – with questions being raised about the legal rights of downsized people. They consume so little, and therefore contribute so much less to a consumer driven society, so should they have equal voting rights?
And it becomes clear that downsizing can be misused and abused by Governments as well as by less than honourable corporate groups.

Matt Damon plays Paul Safranek, who, along with his wife, choose to downsize. Safranek soon finds that he may have made a mistake in making that irreversible choice.

As I said, after half of the film I was wondering about the point of it all, but then the film took a significant turn. That change came about with the introduction of a Vietnamese character, Ngoc Lan Tran, played by Hong Chau.
She gives the film a spark it was lacking and brings it to life, a Jesus worshipping woman devoted to serving the less fortunate.
Through her Safranek starts to see another side to the downsizing programme. Alongside the advertised affluence, there is a hidden world of poverty, making their new world no different to the one they’d chosen to leave behind, where affluence is enjoyed at the expense of many who are usually unnoticed.

It is a clear film of two halves. The second part turned it from something self-indulgently forgettable into something thought provokingly memorable. It’s something that has stayed with me since I saw it on Saturday evening.

Blacklands by Belinda Bauer


Blacklands was Belinda Bauer’s first book, through which she became an accidental crime writer. *

In the Author’s Note at the end of the book she writes:

Blacklands was never intended to be a crime novel. I thought it was going to be a very small story about a boy and his grandmother.

12 year old Steven Lamb’s life is dominated by his uncle Billy, even though the two never met. Billy didn’t live to enter his teens. He fell victim to a paedophile serial killer long before Steven was born.

Steven’s small family lives with his grandmother who regularly stands at the window, looking through it as if still waiting for her son Billy to come home.

Steven reasons that the dysfunction within his family, the lack of expressed love and warmth, has been caused not only by grief over Billy’s murder, but because his body was never discovered.

Steven is determined to put things to right by finding his uncle’s remains. He sets out with map and spade onto the nearby Exmoor, but it’s a project hampered by scale, having no clue where it would be best to dig.

That’s something only one person knows for sure, Arnold Avery, the man guilty of Billy’s murder.

Steven starts a surreptitious correspondence with Avery, trying to learn the secret of Billy’s grave, instigating a disturbing interaction between the two.

Bauer tells the story from the points of view of Steven and Avery. Each of them have far different reasons for continuing the correspondence, but the shared focus on Billy’s murder and burial has consequences Steven couldn’t have imagined.

One piece of writing advice that I picked up from somewhere regarding the construction of a short story, was that if you include a description of a gun early in the story, that gun has to be used before the end of it. In other words, particularly in short form writing, don’t clutter the story with unnecessary detail – make everything is pertinent.

Blacklands is not a short story, but Bauer seems to follow that advice throughout the book. There are so many colourul little details introduced that could have been  legitiamtely put aside after they’ve added dimension to a character, but instead they become vital, active elements later .

I didn’t need to find yet another author to follow, but this book has made me add Bauer’s work to my growing list of books to read.

Her most recent novel Snap has been longlisted for this year’s Man-Booker Prize.




It wasn’t until a lunch to sign a contract with her publisher, Transworld, that Bauer learned she was all set for a career as a crime novelist. “We were sitting in this posh restaurant with a contract between us and [her editor] hands me a pen and says: ‘Just tell us what your second book is going to be about.’ I said: ‘It’s going to be about these two children in a spaceship,’ and she took the contract away, whoop, like that tablecloth trick. And she said: ‘No, it has to be a crime novel.’ I was floored – I had no idea how publishing worked, because I’d always done such diverse scripts as a screenwriter. I literally had to make it up there at the table,” says Bauer.

So, having “never read anything that was actually marketed as a crime book”, she started out as a crime writer on “possibly a different footing to someone who was immersed in the genre”.

The Stranger You Know (prelude)

strangerI’ve placed an order for this book after considering it for some time. I made the decision after watching a TV documentary about the murder of Kim Barry in my former home city of Wollongong.

It seems like the show was part of Crime Investigation Australia, a series made over 10 years ago, something I didn’t realise until I looked for more  information about it. I wonder whether it has been updated in some way with a new presenter because it didn’t look like an older show and the show’s  original presenter (Steve Liebman) is not the man who was on the episodes of the show I’ve seen.

Kim Barry a 19 year old, was murdered and mutilated in early 1981. Her headless and fingerless body was found dumped in bushland near Jamberoo, a village south of Wollongong. Her skull and fingers were later found in a separate bushland location also near Jamberoo.

Suspicion fell upon a local miner, Graham Potter, who was charged and later convicted of the murder. He served only 14 years for the gruesome crime. Potter is now one of Australia’s most wanted men – for later crimes unrelated to his original conviction. I suspect he’ll be mentioned again when I write about other books that have relevance to those alleged later crimes.

There are several reasons for my interest in this case:

  1. My dad worked at the same mine as Potter and knew who he was.
  2. A friend worked within the same department as Kim Barry’s father at a local industrial complex.
  3. My parents knew the man who discovered Kim Barry’s skull
  4. Gloria and I crossed paths with Potter soon after his release from jail. He was walking into a local K-Mart store as we were walking out.

Around 20 years after his release from jail for that murder, Potter is now stated to be Australia’s most wanted man, after skipping bail related to serious drug charges and being associated with a proposed contract killing.

Its possibly not only the police who list him as “most wanted”. When he was awarded bail a co-defendant, an alleged senior mafia figure was given a significant jail sentence. The implication was that Potter was allowed bail as a reward for services rendered. He could therefore also be on a mafia “most wanted” list.

Those latter details were added to the end of the show mentioned above, so I think that confirms that the series has been given an update.

One part of the documentary that I found went too far, was its use of several crime scene (and possibly mortuary) photographs of Miss Barry’s naked remains. There was a token attempt at light pixilation but barely enough to give her even the slightest degree of modesty, or to protect the viewer from the gruesomeness of the atrocities she suffered.

Surely Kim Barry deserved so much more respect than that in death after enduring so much at the end of her life.


Kim Narelle Barry 1961-1981


Trace by Rachael Brown

trace.jpgI first came across Trace as a Radio National podcast on the ABC.

Recently this book was published.

Rachael Brown has been investigating the 1980 murder of Maria James. That investigation led into some very dark places with disturbing implications.

Maria James was found murdered in her home, with multiple stab wounds. Several leads and witness reports led to dead ends, and her killer was never found, leaving her young sons with no answers about why they lost their mother.

Brown tries to follow up surviving witnesses to see if she can find anything that was missed in their stories.

Possibly the biggest breakthrough comes about when a witness ignored by the investigating police finally has his story heard. That witness is Adam James, the victim’s youngest son, who reveals he was subjected to sexual abuse by local Catholic priests.
Just before she was killed, Adam had told his mum what had been happening to him and she planning a confrontation with the abuser(s).

One of the priests later became implicated in earlier child sex-abuse cases, including allegations of conducting satanic rituals involving murder. As far-fetched as that may sound, what can be made of this? :

Melbourne’s Catholic Church has paid $33,000 to a man who says he was abused by a Melbourne priest who took part in satanic rituals in which three people were killed… the independent sexual abuse investigator for the Melbourne Archdiocese, barrister Peter O’Callaghan QC, ‘substantially accepted’ the victim’s claim…(Age, 27 May 2006).

In addition to the possible involvement of a priest in Maria James’s murder, other disturbing questions are raised about police action surrounding the case. A mix up of evidence from the murder site compromised investigation for decades. Rachael Brown also found that documents related to interviews associated with the case could not be located.

Incompetence or conspiracy

Again the far fetched implications of the latter don’t seem so unlikely when events from the past are taken into account – when there was “a conspiracy to cover up the crimes [of priests that] went right to the top” of the police force in the 1950s. (also see * below)

Maria James’ sons are currently hoping for a new inquest into their mother’s death.


The ABC Podcast of Trace can be found here:

Guardian review here: