Showing posts with label Australia. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Australia. Show all posts

07 June 2019

Jane Harper


by Janice Law

It is always a pleasure to discover a  good new – or new to me – writer, especially someone from an unfamiliar corner of the mystery world. The award winning Jane Harper, born in the UK, raised in Australia, educated in part back in the UK, and now living and writing in Australia, fits the bill.
Her novels, two so far with a third out this month, are rooted in the Australian landscape. The Dry, set in the backwater farming town of Kiewarra, is about the murder of a family. But it is also about the corrosive effects of prolonged drought, blistering heat, and looming fires on a struggling insular community. She creates the hardscrabble sheep-raising district with visceral intensity, a perfect scene for her tough, frazzled, anxious characters.

If The Dry is all about heat and looming impoverishment, Force of Nature offers upscale characters and an icy rain – Aussie weather apparently runs to extemes. A top female executive goes missing on a pricy bonding adventure in a wildlife reserve, a place of towering trees, impenetrable undergrowth, and sinister history. Rain and cold, missed trails, lost food and water lead to a breakdown, different from, but nearly as complete as that faced by citizens in bone dry Kiewarra. In both novels, Aaron Falk, joined by his new work partner Carmen Cooper in Force of Nature, provides a thoughtful, reserved presence.

The novels are skillfully well-plotted with an abundance of possible (and plausible) suspects and poignant collateral damage. What interested me, however, was her variation of the traditional and familiar device of past is prologue. The crime in each novel has echoes of long past misdeeds, mistakes, and relationships. Nothing new there.

What is original, I think, is the way that Harper has woven glimpses of the past into the ongoing narrative. Throughout both books, short italicized sections challenge, and sometimes correct, what characters claim in the present. In The Dry in particular, a scene may be presented more than once, the second time reversing the meaning of a remark or an event that had originally seemed quite straightforward, sending the investigation on a new direction.

Often the corrections or elucidations have to do with events from the characters’ own youth. Childhood is rarely a golden age for Harper’s characters and even those initially blessed with happiness rarely sustain it long. But if joy is fleeting, youthful friendships, hatreds, and rivalries have a long life in her fiction. It is perhaps not giving too much away to say that memories of the past both assist and hinder Federal Agent Falk in his investigations. Or that the investigator, primarily a financial sleuth specializing in fraud and white collar crime, is himself shadowed by long ago events in Kiewarra.


Although it may not be to every reader’s taste, I found Falk’s restraint in his personal relations a pleasant and realistic change from the heavy breathing romances that so often feature in mysteries and, especially, thrillers. A fleeting hint of attraction to his new partner and a nostalgic visit to a popular classmate back in his home town are enough to indicate Falk’s uncertain confidence and basic decency. He’s got baggage, but he’s an adult.

Jane Harper worked for a number of years as a journalist in Australia before winning a short story contest led her to begin taking her fiction more seriously. Apparently a 12 week online course in novel writing proved instrumental in turning an early manuscript into The Dry. Nice to know that contests and online courses occasionally can pay off!

15 January 2015

Cloudstreet


by Eve Fisher

We moved up to small town South Dakota 25 years ago.  There was one movie theater, that back then showed movies about 6 months to a year late.  (Things have improved.)  Back then you could rent videos - remember those?  and the main rental center was at a local liquor store.  Let's just say that the selection was limited.  We missed a lot.

But now, with Netflix, I can get almost anything I want.  I troll Netflix the way some people troll bars, looking for suitable pick-ups.  About the only thing I won't watch is anything with extreme gore.  (I have a sensitive stomach.)  And if the show is good enough, I'll read the book.

A classic example of this is Cloudstreet, by Tim Winton of Perth, Australia.  It's Australia's favorite novel, and the miniseries was produced by the Australian television station Showcase.  I rented the miniseries - 6 episodes - and we binge-watched it.

Two families, the Pickles and the Lambs spend over 20 years living in the same, large, ramshackle, haunted (more about that later) house.  They split it down the middle, and a good thing, because they are night and day to each other.  Sam Pickles is a gambler, his wife Dolly is the sexiest drunk God ever put on this earth; between the two of them there isn't much on the table or in the future for their kids.  The Lambs are industrious, but with Oriel as the matriarch, they have to be:  she runs a tight ship.  As her husband, Lester says, "People have always been a disappointment to her."  The Lambs find meaning in God's grace, the Pickles, in luck.  The Pickles' God is the "Shifty Shadow" of fate, and Sam is its high priest.  The Lambs' God is a maker of miracles, although they also trust to the spinning knife, because it's "always the miracles you don't need."  Like a talking pig.  Or a son (Fish Lamb, the narrator) who Oriel beats back into breath after drowning, but not much else, or so it seems.

The house at Cloudstreet is a character in itself.

Cloudstreet - the House
It moans, it breathes, it lives - it's "a continent of a house", trembling with life, past and present.  It's haunted by the ghosts of at least three stolen Aboriginal children, who were being "trained" by an eccentric woman to become nice white ladies at tea before their suicide.  Fish Lamb cries to it; Oriel Lamb runs from it, to the point where she sets up a tent in the back yard and sleeps out there for almost 20 years.  Add to all of the above magical realism, two resurrections, a plagiarist, a parrot that craps money, Lester's ice cream, Oriel and Dolly dancing for the dead, Quick Lamb glowing white hot as the sun from the inside, Fish Lamb leaping, a boat that sails on grass, and a bilocating dog... It's a miniseries worth seeing.

- BUT WHAT HAPPENED TO THE SERIAL KILLER? - 

In Cloudstreet the novel, one of the darker plot lines is provided by the real life Nedlands Monster, Eric Edgar Cooke, who terrorized through Perth from 1959-1963.  He committed over 250 robberies, during which he killed 8 people, and tried to kill 14 others.  It's true that Cooke was a horribly, notoriously abused child, frequently hospitalized for head injuries.  He was born with a cleft palate and had many surgeries, which weren't entirely effective.  He joined the armed forces, but was discharged once they found out about his record of B&E, vandalism, and arson.  He married in 1953 and he and his wife had seven children.  Some time after 1957, after two years' imprisonment for stealing a car, he went on a killing spree, that was the most entirely random thing you can imagine. He shot people, strangled them, stabbed them with knives and/or scissors, ran them over with cars, and axed them.  Whatever worked.  Some he killed when they woke up while he was robbing their house in the middle of the night.  One he shot dead when they answered his knock at the door.  He was eventually caught, tried, convicted and hanged in 1964.

Sadly, before Cooke was convicted, two false convictions were made:
Beamish, Button, and
crusading journalist Estelle Blackburn
after Beamish's acquittal in 2005

  • Darryl Beamish, a deaf mute, was convicted in December, 1961, of murdering Jillian Macpherson Brewer, a Melbourne heiress.  Despite Cooke's confession in 1963, Beamish served 15 years.  (The Chief Justice of Western Australia refused to believe Cooke's confession because he was a "villainous unscrupulous liar.")  After Button was released, though, in 2005, Beamish was finally acquitted.
  • John Button was convicted of manslaughter in 1963 of the death of his girlfriend, Rosemary Anderson (one of Cooke's first hit and run victims).  Button's bad stutter led the police to believe that he was deliberately concealing his guilt, and they coerced a confession out of him.  Again, despite Cooke's confession later that year, Button's appeal was denied.  In fact, Button's appeals were continually denied until 2002, when the Court of Criminal Appeal finally quashed his conviction. Sadly, Ms. Anderson's family continued to believe that he was guilty, and when they finally accepted that he didn't run her down, they held him responsible for her death because he was her escort the night that it happened, and he should have seen her home safely.  Button is currently the head of the Western Australia Innocence Project.

None of this shows up in the miniseries, but in the book, after Rose Pickles (Sam and Dolly's oldest) marries Quick Lamb (Oriel and Lester's oldest), Quick becomes a police officer, one of many assigned to try to catch the Nedlands Monster.  You can see "the murderer" as a symbol of another way of life, or a way to add to the tension, or as another example of the haunting of the world, the way Cloudstreet is haunted:  take your pick.  But he's all over Part IX:  he even shows up at the Cloudstreet house at one point, (looking for who?) but is chased off by the talking pig while the Aboriginal (sporadic visitor and prophet) watches approvingly.  And his eventual capture is another turning of the "shifty shadow", this time to good luck.

I don't know why they cut Cooke out of the miniseries.  (It's still worth seeing, even without him.) Maybe they thought that no one in Australia wanted to see it.  And I know there's never enough time in a movie or miniseries for everything that's in the book.  But still.  The novel was published in 1991, the miniseries made in 2010, and I would swear that if it had been made in America, they'd have left that serial killer in.  Can you think of any American miniseries where the serial killer got left out?

02 December 2012

Crime History– Archibald McCafferty


by Leigh Lundin

Losing a child affects parents in a myriad of terrible ways, some damaged worse than others. This is a story about one of them.

The birth of a son was one of the few gentle things in the life of Archibald Beattie McCafferty, a 24-year-old Scottish-born Australian with an extensive criminal sheet. McCafferty's marriage to Janice Redington lasted a scant six weeks, just long enough for her to fall pregnant. One evening, she fell asleep nursing her infant and awoke to the horror she'd accidentally smothered her own child.

Then things turned worse, far worse.

In and out of mental and correctional institutions, Archie McCafferty wasn't firmly seated to begin with, but the death of his baby unhinged his teetering mental balance. More than ever, he embraced drugs and drink. Combined with grief, they may explain his 'vision' seeing his son hovering above the child's grave. In his hallucination, his son told him he could be brought back to life if McCafferty killed seven victims.
first murder scene
first murder scene

Se7en Incarnate

McCafferty had forged a Fagin-like bond with a 26-year-old woman and four teens, a relationship that involved alcohol, dope, and thievery. He described his son's visitation to them and demanded their assistance in carrying out his gruesome intentions. They acted immediately.

The first victim they choked, beat and stabbed in a bar's back alley before they came up with a better plan. Posing as hitchhikers in the rain, the teens rounded up and shot two more victims, wrongly described as tramps. The car they seized from the third victim ran out of gasoline, forcing the gang to postpone the final kills until the following night. That delay saved lives.

One of the teens didn't trust McCafferty and he sensed McCafferty didn't trust him. Rightly fearing he'd become one of the seven victims, Rick Webster nervously returned to work at the Sydney Morning Herald. Glancing out a window, he spotted his fellow gang members waiting in a van. He correctly guessed they intended to kill him as soon as he stepped into the street.
arrest
arrest

Certain he couldn't leave the building alive, Webster phoned police and asked for an investigator to come to the newspaper office. When detectives grasped what Webster was telling them, they called in a team that swooped in and arrested the entire gang. Without question, Webster's call saved McCafferty's wife and her family.

In court, the news media compared the case to the Charles Manson gang. Throughout, McCafferty had to be drugged with a quadruple dose of tranquilizers. Candidly telling the court he'd kill until he reached seven victims, he was sentenced to three life terms.

Prison

Only 26-year-old Carol Howes escaped a guilty verdict. The four teens were sentenced to prison. Gang member Julie Todd hanged herself days after her 17th birthday.

in court
in court
McCafferty proved to be the hardest criminal in Australia's penal system. He was convicted of murdering another prisoner and, as part of an internal 'murder squad', may have been involved with three other deaths. Interestingly, he denied killing the inmate, but a disbelieving judge sentenced him to an additional fourteen years.

Over time, his rage seemed to abate. McCafferty gave testimony about corrupt prison officials and other criminals. Eventually, wardens moved him from a maximum security prison to a minimum security farm. He was admitted to a work release program and allowed him to spend weekends with his brother's family. A judge agreed to consider him for parole.

Meanwhile, parole officials discovered a legal wrinkle. When McCafferty's parents brought young Archie to Australia as a child, the proper paperwork for citizenship hadn't been taken care of. Technically, McCafferty was still a British subject, meaning the state could make him someone else's problem.

Escape the Past

McCafferty today
McCafferty today
Upon parole, authorities put him on a plane bound for Scotland along with his jailhouse bride, Mandy Queen. McCafferty changed his name to James Lok, whereupon he found work as a painter and then a toymaker. Against all odds, the marriage lasted– he'd become a family man. As far as Australia was concerned, the case was closed. And so it seemed for more than two decades.

Twenty-five years after he landed in Scotland, he again fell under the influence of alcohol. After a drinking and driving binge, he threatened his wife and police. That was peaceably resolved.

On a trip to New Zealand, authorities arrested and deported him for failing to declare his criminal past. But, when all is said and done, McCafferty, one of the more feared of killers, kept up his end of the parole bargain better than expected.

That Manson Label

Manson's motivations embody pure evil, self-serving to the extreme. His followers long repented and, harmless if not toothless, should be released. But Manson– I can't imagine him other than the self-created monster of malevolence, incapable of interacting with society in a rĂ´le other than predator.

McCafferty isn't anything close. Although branded as Australia's Charles Manson, the label doesn't fit. We can at least understand the sorrow and pain that drove the man. And, McCafferty made great efforts to turn his life around. Life's imperfect, but he, his wife Mandy, and the court system deserve high marks.