Category Archives: True crime

My top books of 2016

my-father-the-pornographerIt’s that time of the year for my top 10 reads of 2016. As is always the case, my list is a mixture of new books, old books, fiction and non-fiction. In no order they are as follows:

The Rules of Backyard Cricket, Jock Serong

It took a while for this book to warm up, but about a third of the way through it just goes bang and never looks back from there. An incredibly dark tale of suburban crime set over several decades in Melbourne, as seen through the eyes of professional cricketers Darren Keefe and his older brother, Wally. Don’t let the publisher’s marketing of this book as literary crime fool you; this is as good an example of noir as you will find in Australian crime fiction today. Serong has a beautiful prose style and totally nails the period detail of growing up in seventies/eighties suburban Melbourne.

Old Scores, David Whish-Wilson

Old Scores is the third book by Perth crime writer David Whish-Wilson featuring Frank Swann, former petty criminal, disgraced cop and low rent private investigator.The story is set in the set at the beginnings of the cowboy capitalism that marked Western Australia in that decade. Swann’s peculiar mix of talents is in demand by the state’s newly elected Labour government.… Read more

MIFF report back #1: The Family

The Family 1Nothing says creepy quite like washed out old home movie and grainy television footage and there is plenty of both in The Family, my first movie at the 2016 Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF). It is a fascinating, at times chilling, occasionally frustrating examination of the sinister Melbourne cult of the same name.

Growing up in Melbourne in the seventies and eighties, I have vague memories of the Family getting the odd media mention. Like a lot of others, I was also familiar with the images of the child members of the Family, their matching clothes and blonde bobbed haircuts giving them more than a passing resemblance to the weird half alien children in The Village of the Damned, the 1960 science fiction film based on the 1957 John Wyndam novel, The Midwich Cuckoos.

Established on the outskirts of Melbourne in the early 1960s, the Family largely evaded official and media scrutiny until 1987, when police raided their secluded house near Lake Eildon, central Victoria. The raid kicked off a police investigation into the cult, the starting point and main narrative of the documentary.

The Family was created by Anne Hamilton-Byrne, a narcissistic, megalomaniac yoga teacher, and Raynor Johnson, a prominent English physicist with an interest in mysticism (and the former master of Melbourne University’s Queens College in the early 1960s).… Read more

Police fictions: Law enforcement involvement in early Crawford crime TV

Homicide‘Why was Homicide so successful? One reason was its production values, which was much more advanced than previously made local television dramas. The fact it was shot partly on location was also an Australian first. But the most significant drawcard was the show’s realism. Its settings were Melbourne’s dimly lit streets and alleys, its public bars and cramped workers’ cottages. The show also presented a realistic portrayal of criminals, investigators and the methods used to solve crimes. This authenticity was the chief selling point of Homicide and its successors, Division 4 and Matlock Police. And crucial to this authenticity was the in-depth involvement of the Victorian police.’

Last year, myself and fellow research and friend, Dean Brandum, were lucky to be awarded with a joint fellowship at the Australian Film Institute Research Centre. Our research was on the making of Crawford’s early television crime shows, Homicide, Matlock Police and Division 4. This included the much talked about but little known history of Victorian police involvement in all three shows.

You can read the full text of a article myself and Dean wrote for the literary magazine Overland, about our findings, here.

Book review: a triple shot of Australian crime writing

Resurrection BayIt’s been a while between fiction reviews on my site. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t been busy reading. Even found the time to read some debut Australian books, three of which I want to talk a bit about here.

Resurrection Bay, Emma Viskic

Resurrection Bay is one of several new publications to hit shelves recently from Echo Publishing, a new subsidiary of Melbourne-based Five Mile Press.

Private detective Caleb Zelic responds to a text message from his childhood friend Gary, asking for help. By the time Caleb arrives Gary is dead. Gary was a cop. He also moonlighted for Zelic on occasion. The latest case they were working on involved a series of robberies from a warehouse complex. Is Gary’s death related to that investigation and, if so, is Zelic next? And who is ‘Scott’, ‘the Boxer’ and ‘Grey Man’.

Zelic is a great character. He is not particularly likeable and a human disaster area when it comes to relationships. He is also profoundly deaf. Viskic apparently learnt sign language as part of writing the book and Zelic’s disability is something she uses to great effect in this novel. As for Gary, well, he might have been a bit bent, but so is nearly everyone else in this novel, including Zelic ex-junkie brother and his 57 year old, acerbic ex-cop, alcoholic partner.… Read more

Sicario, the myth of American innocence & the war on drugs

SicarioIn the mid-nineties, my brother and I drove all the way down the west coast of Mexico, stopped in Guatemala for a couple of weeks, then drove up Mexico’s eastern coast to Texas and onto Florida. Our time in Mexico was pretty much problem free (with the exception of the time we were pulled over by narcotics police at a check point on a remote stretch of road outside Cancun and my brother dissed one of the cops – but that’s another story). Indeed, the only instance in which we were threatened with genuine violence occurred not in Mexico but when gun was pulled on us in a bar in Miami. I struggled to reconcile my memories of Mexico as I watched Denis Villeneuve’s Sicario.

Sicario (warning, spoilers follow) opens with a group of police, led by Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) busting into a house in the outer suburbs of Phoenix, suspected of having links to one of the Mexican drug cartels. There they make a gruesome discover. Entombed in the plasterboard walls are numerous corpses, wrapped in plastic, the victims of cartel kidnapping and murder. No sooner have forensics arrived to start cataloguing the bodies, then a bomb goes off in the backyard, killing two of the officers.

Kate is called into a meeting with her superiors and a mysterious man called Graver (Josh Brolin) and asked whether she wants to volunteer for a new assignment.… Read more