Extraordinary Courage

Two books dealing with crimes against women and their struggle to be believed.

Issue #35, Monday 5 December 2022

Bookish News

New and Upcoming

A couple of interesting-looking crime novels, and a non-fiction book I’d like to read.

In Her Blood by Nikki Crutchley

Two missing girls, two decades apart. Only one person knows the truth…

From Ngaio Marsh Award shortlisted author, Nikki Crutchley, In Her Blood is a compulsively readable dark, twisty and atmospheric thriller, sure to keep you turning the pages until deep into the night.

Buy it at Readings.

All That's Left Unsaid by Tracey Lien

There were a dozen witnesses to Denny Tran’s brutal murder in a busy Sydney restaurant. So how come no one saw anything?

Tracey Lien’s debut novel is a striking blend of unputdownable murder mystery and complex exploration of racial identity and the intricate bonds between friends and family. (Readings Review)

Another debut crime novel by an Australian author! We’re flooded with them at the moment (a good, not a bad, thing!).

Buy it at Readings.

Novelist as a Vocation, Haruki Murakami, Philip Gabriel & Ted Goossen (trans)

Haruki Murakami’s myriad fans will be delighted by this unique look into the mind of a master storyteller. In this engaging book, the internationally best-selling author and famously reclusive writer shares with readers what he thinks about being a novelist; his thoughts on the role of the novel in our society; his own origins as a writer; and his musings on the sparks of creativity that inspire other writers, artists, and musicians.

Count me in as one of Murakami’s “myriad fans”. I’ll be very interested to read this.

Buy it at Readings.

My Reading

Completed Since Last Issue

The Ninth Life of a Diamond Miner by Grace Tame

This is not an easy or enjoyable book to read, for several reasons.

Grace Tame was appointed as Australian of the Year in 2021 for her “extraordinary courage, using her voice to push for legal reform and raise public awareness about the impacts of sexual violence”. She was the first Tasmanian to receive this national award, and the first to be publicly known as the survivor of sexual assault.

“Sexual assault” is almost too gentle a description. As a 15-year-old schoolgirl, she was groomed and then repeatedly raped by her teacher Nicolaas Bester, a man then in his late fifties.

The Ninth Life of a Diamond Miner doesn’t hold back from the painful details of how all this occurred. Tame was already vulnerable because of her neurodiverse mental state and an earlier incident of abuse when she was much younger, and had initially responded to this man’s overtures of sympathy and comfort, which was apparently his standard method of grooming. Tame wasn’t the only girl at that school on which he used this technique. Tame however had the courage—as the award says, the extraordinary courage—to disclose what had occurred and to persist in trying to get justice for herself and other victims. It is very, very difficult for a woman’s voice to be heard when seeking justice for abuse; and as Brittany Higgins and so many other women can attest, it is very rare for that justice to be achieved.

And Heaven help us if a woman should react in ways which are not socially approved. The confected outrage by sections of the media when Tame frowned rather than smiled when forced into a photo opportunity with Scott Morrison is good evidence of that.

All of this story, however, is scattered throughout Tame’s book, and the reader has to piece it together slowly. The book is a kaleidoscope. Ranging back and forwards in time, it mixes Tame’s social commentaries with her personal history, family history and relationships; her mental struggles; her freely-admitted drug-taking and alcohol abuse; her time in Tasmania, her time living in the United States; her appointment as Australian of the Year and the media scrum which followed. Partly this scattered structure is a reflection of Tame’s mental condition. At one point she says:

The memories I have are crystal clear and vivid but I struggle to hold them in place. Shards of thought, past and present, splinter off in all directions like a bone breaking inside a body, stretching skin and time. When this happens now, I have learned just to bend with my brain. I have to run forwards with the words that flow out of my head, because trying to retrace my steps is like walking on broken glass.

Tame’s language throughout is blunt and sweary. Don’t read it if you’re shocked by the f-word! She’s angry, and she has good reason to be angry.

So. I didn’t enjoy reading this book, but I am nevertheless glad that I did, to gain a much better understanding into the issues, and a better insight into someone who, largely against her will, became a public figure and the target of controversy.

[Update: even as I published this, Tame’s disgusting abuser Nicolaas Bester is in court today because he is no longer in jail and is accused of continuing to abuse Tame on social media. What a low-life.]

Completely coincidentally, because it just turned up at my local library, I read the following novel which shares many themes with Tame’s book:

The Unbelieved by Vikki Petraikis

Yet another debut novel by an Australian author. My goodness we’re well-served with good crime writers, it’s hard or impossible to keep up with them all.

This novel, a little like Disher’s Day’s End, features a police officer who has recently moved from a city location out to a rural community, a coastal town called Deception Bay. The officer is Detective Senior Constable Antigone Pollard, and she’s transferred out of a station in Melboure after a distressing incident whose details we take a while to discover. The book is written from her first-person point of view. Deception Bay is where Antigone grew up and went to school. She’s now living in her grandmother’s house, the grandmother having moved into an assisted care facility.

We first meet Antigone in the bar of a pub where she is targeted by a much older man who aggressively tries to chat her up. She’s “rescued” by a young bloke called Jack who buys her a drink and tries to guess her profession. In fact, he’s spiked her drink and attacks her when she goes out alone to her car. However, she was expecting this whole scene and is only pretending to be influenced by the drug, and she headbutts him hard when he grabs her from behind, subdues him and has him in handcuffs when her backup turns up. She’s been on the trail of a series of incidents in which young women in the area have been drugged, abducted and raped. Jack appears to be a very likely suspect.

Getting Jack convicted, however, is no simple matter and in fact Antigone’s boss, Senior Sergeant Bill Wheeler, an obvious misogynist, is actively hostile to her and her investigation, as is the local magistrate.

Pollard and her partner “Wozza” persist, however, and eventually uncover a much wider series of related crimes.

The author keeps the focus on her main theme, of crimes against women either not being reported by the women themselves for fear of the reaction, or else reported but frequently dismissed either during investigation or when the rare case comes to trial.

A separate but important plot thread, however, concerns the apparent murder-suicide of a couple in the town about fifteen years previously. We’re introduced to this story in the book’s prologue. This event is only discovered when the man’s boss, a neighbouring farmer, gets his wife to ring up to see why the man hasn’t turned up for work. His wife only manages to speak to the couple’s child, a toddler, who says that her Mummy and Daddy are asleep and won’t wake up.

Pollard begins to investigate this cold case after being involved with a shop-lifting incident by a teenage girl, who turns out to be the orphaned child of the couple who died. Something about the case strikes Pollard as not quite right. The investigation at the time was cursory. She, of course, begins to suspect murder.

It’s all good stuff, and the author’s main theme is a very important one.

I did feel, however, that the story was wrapped up rather too neatly, too completely and too quickly at the end, with just desserts being handed out right left and centre to the bad guys. There aren’t really any shades of grey here. The bad guys are all really bad and the good guys all really good.

Finally, I thought that it was altogether too pat that Senior Sergeant Wheeler is brought down through not one but two very similar humiliations which occur only because of Pollard’s past relationship with senior police officers .

Still, despite those reservations, this novel shows a lot of promise, and I’ll be keeping an eye out for whatever Petraitis writes next.

The Good Thieves by Katherine Rundell

An adventure story aimed at middle-school readers (which doesn’t stop me reading it, of course!). It features young Vita, who is arriving in New York with her mother from England. We discover that they are there to help her grandfather, who has been swindled out of possession of his home by a crook, Victor Sorrotore. We find that the story is set during the Prohibition Era in the United States, and among other crimes Sorrotore is involved in producing and selling moonshine (illegal liquor).

Vita is determined to get her grandfather’s home back for him. It’s Hudson Castle, re-built stone by stone from a real old castle, shipped to the United States from Ireland a few generations earlier. Sorrotore fooled Vita’s grandfather by paying to rent the castle and then claiming that in fact he’d signed a contract to sell it.

Vita tries a direct appeal to Sorrotore in the middle of a party in his swanky suite in a fancy hotel, but he denies any wrongdoing and dismisses her. At the party, though, Vita comes in contact with Silk, a young woman acting as a waitress but in fact plying her trade as a pickpocket.

Later, Vita meets up with Arkady, the son of the owner of a Russian circus then performing at Carnegie Hall, and Samuel, an African-American boy also working at the circus. Arkady loves birds and animals and is able to quickly gain their trust; Sam’s lifelong ambition is to become a trapeze artist and acrobat.

Vita manages to convince this group of young people, eventually also including Silk, to made a daring raid on Hudson Castle to retrieve an item of great value her grandfather left there.

One of the themes of the book is about fitting in and finding a place for yourself when the odds seem to be against you. Vita has had polio and one of her legs doesn’t work properly. She is, however, a crack shot at throwing objects including knives, at which she’s been taught by her grandfather. Each of the boys is not doing the job at the circus which they really want to do; Silk, an orphan, always living on the edge of crime, is really in need of companionship and a family. There are some reminders, too, through Sam, how badly people of colour were treated by the privileged whites of the time.

A lot of fun, but I did find it a bit slow going at times, taking rather too long to get to the action. And I’m not sure that today’s young readers would readily understand that the novel is set in the 1920s, with the references to Prohibition and moonshine. But perhaps that doesn’t matter, as the story would carry them along.

Currently Reading

And that’s it for this time. See you in a fortnight.

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