Book Review: Little Deaths, by Emma Flint

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_little_deaths.jpgBeing someone with a love of the USA as it was in the fifties and sixties, I had high hopes for Emma Flint’s book, Little Deaths. Set in the summer of 1965 in New York, it featured the disappearance of two young children from their home and focused on their non-conventional mother.

The book begins in prison and in a series of flashbacks we learn of the life Ruth Malone had on the outside. The freedom, the men, the stresses of caring for two children on her own, and the resentment for how her life has turned out.

Next Ruth is now being questioned by the police, and we soon learn that she woke up one morning to find her two children, five-year-old Frankie and four-year-old Cindy, missing from their apartment. She is separated from the children’s father, Frank, and the couple are embroiled in a custody battle. Ruth assumes he’s taken the kids; he denies it.

The police focus on her as their chief suspect, mainly because of the way she looks and acts. Ruth is a bright, vivacious woman who works in a bar and wears too much makeup and too-short skirts. She also has a number of male friends, something USA in the 1960’s was not always ready to accept.

In the hands of someone who knows their location well, a book set in this era in the USA is a magical thing. Emma Flint is a UK writer who lives in London. I don’t know if she’s spent much time in the USA but the scenes lack colour and atmosphere and seem forced. The parts with the journalist who takes on Ruth’s story are a bit more believable, but even then, there are some moments when you’re reminded it’s definitely a work of fiction.

I didn’t find out until after I’d finished the book that Little Deaths was based on the true story of Alice Crimmins. Out of curiosity I looked for more information on the real case and found Flint had followed the facts – very closely. I also discovered hers was the 10th fictional account of the case.

As an avid reader of true crime magazines as a teenager and with the book being based on a true story, I should have loved Flint’s book, but I didn’t. I found the book not quite satisfying and the ending disappointing, and I also felt cheated that the book was not really the work of a talented and imaginative author, but one who reworked an old story.

Reviewed by Faye Lougher

Little Deaths
by Emma Flint
Published by Pan Macmillan
ISBN 9781509826599

Book Review: Killing Time, by Karl Williams

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

‘Dedication: To all the people who have fallen foul of justice systems around the world’

cv_killing_time_karl_williamsThree young Brits enjoying the high life in Dubai—alcohol, women, clubs, a car—and their life flips upside down when a stash of dokha is “found” in their rented white BMW convertible. Under the pretense of making an arrest, police officers take them firstly out into the desert night, where they are beaten and tortured, before being taken to the city and formally charged with drug dealing, a charge which could lead to a twenty-five year prison term or the death penalty.

Bewildered, in pain, scared s**tless—Karl, Harry and Tariq are questioned without legal representation and sent to Port Rashid prison to await their trial. They soon learn the UAE justice system is very unlike that in the UK. In Port Rashid, the prisoners are in charge. And the harder the criminal, the higher his influence on fellow prisoners and guards. Wasta is the unit of power-currency, and those with wasta inside are drug dealers, gang leaders and violent criminals. It is earned through fair means or foul—mostly foul.

The British Embassy fails to assist, and the outlook is grim. With the overhead cloud of the possible penalty, Karl and his friends have to adapt, and their ways of killing time both help them and harm them. Port Rashid is overcrowded, slummocky, the food is disgusting, the prisoners are dangerous. They must adapt to fit into the prisoners’ system of managing life inside, to survive.

The lads’ easy-going street ways are both an asset and a curse—a joking remark can defuse a taut situation and save a touchy situation from becoming violent, or turn someone into a raging maniac. Karl is soon befriended by Mohammed, a drug dealer, who lets Karl work his way up the power ladder, to the point at which he is accepted as being one of Port Rashid’s leaders.

The personality of all three friends change over the months of being in Port Rashid, and the friendship is tested. Through good times and bad—and worse—Karl struggles to hold onto his friends, to cope with missing his wife and baby girl, to hope for a fair trial and release. He is supported by “Reprieve”, an organisation which aids Brits in prison around the world.

He is shifted to the dreaded Central prison – the holding prison for those whose sentence has finally been decided. An epiphany helps Karl decide to avoid his involvement in the criminal activities within prison, and instead to try to help to give other prisoners small comforts

It may seem I have revealed too much. But the story is in the interactions between Karl and his friends, the police, and his fellow prisoners…

I have reviewed many crime stories. This crime is the maltreatment of prisoners in a city we assume to be a sparkling centre of life in the UAE. It is an eye-opener, fascinating, enthralling and appalling in equal measures. Buy it. Read it.

A forty-four minute interview on his experiences is available at

dokha – a tobacco product, with ‘extras’; legal in UK; ‘ignored’ in UAE unless…
wasta – influence

Reviewed by Lynne McAnulty-Street

Killing Time—Surviving Dubai’s Most Notorious Prisons
by Karl Williams, written with Justin Penrose
Colour-plate illustrated.
Published by Sidgwick & Jackson
ISBN: 9780238072390

Book Review: The Scene Of the Crime, by Steve Braunias

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_scene_of_the_crimeI have read a lot of True Crime books over my reading life, though the number has slowed over the years as the American market has been flooded by what could only be described as repetitive trash. I would be lucky to source three or four books from there in a year; the Australian and New Zealand market, however, gets better and better, and from this market comes the brilliant The Scene of the Crime.

Braunias has put together a very good slice of our crime pie in this compilation… everything from the now notorious hit and run banker, the sword-wielding Antonie Dixon, the ghastly Rolf Harris to Mark ‘Lundy Hundy’ Lundy, who probably has a category all of his own, for convictions related to the same crime. In fact, Braunias does such a good and fair job with Mr Lundy that for a moment there I almost had doubt but no, I woke up, and Lundy is still guilty as.

Clint Rickards and Antonie Dixon get a very fair and engaging hearing as does the poor Guy Hallwright who wrecked a number of lives via his hit-and-run antics, his once-glorious bankers’ life a little shabbier these days. He also covers Brad Murdoch, who is serving a hefty sentence for the murder of Englishman Peter Falconio, who some people still feel is alive and well and out there somewhere, possibly with Lord Lucan.

This is a very well-written book, the choice of tales told is spot on though eclectic, and each chapter flows on from the next: you simply want to keep reading. The people who populate this book, no matter how ghastly their crime, are quietly fascinating and each stands out in some way, sometimes even just for the ordinariness of their actions and the motivation for their crime. Braunias is very good at digging into the background of the tale, the ‘what came before’, which gives an enhanced picture of a situation and tells the reader why it evolved into something else. In particular the Lundy case stands out but so does the Hallwright case, I haven’t read better on Antonie Dixon or Clint Rickards either.

Fair and balanced, a very good read indeed for anyone with an interest in this genre or the particular cases it covers, this is a book that will be passed around and will undoubtedly lead to some heated discussions.

Reviewed by Marion Dreadon

The Scene Of the Crime
by Steve Braunias
Published by HarperCollins NZ
ISBN 9781775540830

Steve is in Wellington this week, promoting this book:
18 November, at Unity Books Wellington, 12 noon – 12.45pm
18 November, at Marsden Books, Karori, Wellington, 6 – 7pm

Book Review: One of Us, by Åsne Seierstad

cv_one_of_usAvailable in bookstores nationwide.

This book was an excellent but very challenging read, the subject matter not being most people’s normal fare.

In 2011, Anders Breivik shot dead 67 teenagers who had gathered on  Utøya Island; young people with a social conscience and a desire to make their mark. Two hours prior, he had left behind 8 dead and 207 injured in a car bombing outside the Prime Minister’s office block in Oslo.

Like most people who watched this atrocity play out on TV footage, the biggest question for Seierstad was,”What would motivate anyone to commit such an act?”

In this brilliantly written, deftly paced book, Seierstad delves deeply into the lives of Breivik and two of his young victims. She attempts to give us answers, shining the light on the somewhat miserable life of Breivik: his rootlessness, his lack of social skills or empathy, his coldness and glacial pomposity; in comparison to the quite opposite lives of Simon Saebo and Bano Rashid up until the point that they were killed. Their future was most likely to be one of achievement, if their lives up until that point were any indication.

They didn’t get to live those lives but Seierstad honours them and their fellow victims by her writing and by her well researched efforts to unearth the paths they all followed, leading to their meeting under such horrid circumstances.

Like perpetrators and victims in most modern mass murders, the profiles are hauntingly similar and if anything, this book put me in my mind of the massacre at Columbine High School, simply for the terror that the victims faced, the closeness, the unexpectedness of their attacker, the planned randomness. Equally, the Oslo car bombing was reminiscent of the Oklahoma City Bombing, especially in the materials used. There is never much individuality in the actions of these perpetrators and it is chilling to think of the attention Breivik may have given to these prior events.

This is a book that draws you in, carries you along and leaves you in awe of the authors’ abilities, especially her ability to make the unbearable at least readable. While the events on  Utøya Island in particular are not easy reading this is a book well worth your reading time.

Reviewed by Marion Dreadon

One of Us
by Åsne Seierstad
Published by Virago Press
ISBN 9781844089208

Book Review: In the hands of strangers…a memoir by Beverly Wardle-Jackson

Available at bookstores nationwide.cv_in_the_hands_of_strangers

This is a powerful and disturbing book, the story of a child removed from her home and family and thrown into a Child Welfare system that should have protected and nurtured her, but in fact did the opposite.

For whatever reasons, her mother found herself unable/unwilling to cope with the demands of raising Beverly and her siblings, and in what was considered a good option in those days, handed them over to Child Welfare, perhaps imagining that the children were going to live a life that would be far better than the one on offer with her.

They were not. Beverly, a pretty, intelligent girl found herself being beaten, punished for the most trivial of childish behaviour, the smallest mistakes and the simple behaviour we would now call adolescence. Nothing was unworthy of a good beating at the hands of the adults that most rational outsiders would have thought were there to look out for the children. It is very hard to imagine the mindsets of these “caregivers”, how anything in their psyche could have lead them to believe that they were doing the right thing for the children. One might simply say that at one time in NZ, children were perceived as being in need of correction to the extent that it was decided that beating, abusing them, and locking them up was the best way to go.

This book was not an easy read, but it was a very good one. Beverly tells her story with a straight up honesty and a transparency that you can’t help but be moved by. In spite of all her trauma and suffering, despite the psychiatric treatment forced upon her, Beverly has moved forward, leading a very normal and satisfying life with children and grandchildren. She is active in seeking justice for her suffering, and in making society aware of what went on in those once highly-regarded Social Welfare Homes; and the damage caused to the many thousands who passed through them. On top of their ill treatment, these children also lost their families, their identities and are still relatively voiceless to this day.

A well-written book, it adds a voice to a time and place in New Zealand history that shouldn’t simply be brushed aside. This book should be compulsory reading for anyone wishing to work with children who have come into our still-flawed welfare system; it should also be read by those working with suffers of PTSD which can be traced back to their childhood and adolescence experiences in schools and homes linked to Social Welfare Care.

I thank Penguin Random House for this book.

Reivewed by Marion Dreadon

In the hands of strangers…a memoir
by Beverly Wardle-Jackson
Published by Penguin Books (NZ)
ISBN 9780143572329