A Child's Book of True Crime

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9780099428954: A Child's Book of True Crime

Kate Byrne is having an affair with the father of her most gifted pupil, Lucien. Unnervingly, her lover's wife has just published Murder at Black Swan Point, a true crime novel about the brutal slaying of a young adulteress. Suspecting the adult account of Black Swan Point's murder to be wrong, Kate imagines her own version of the novel, for children, narrated by Australian animals. But has her obsession with the crime aligned her fate with that of the murdered adulteress? Compelled by the lives of her nine-year-old students, Kate is a misfit among their parents. And though, in scenes of escalating eroticism, Lucien's father brings her to life sexually, he does nothing to penetrate her obsession with the past. Kate is fixated on the crime of passion that occurred years earlier, less and less aware of her own reputation in the present.

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Review:

Penzler Pick, February 2002: Chloe Hooper has chosen to explore the dark terrain of obsession in this, her first novel.

Kate Byrne teaches fourth grade students in Tasmania, the large island off the mainland of Australia. Young, awkward, and not very self-assured, Kate becomes involved in an affair with Thomas Marne, the father of one of her students, Lucien, a charismatic but withdrawn youngster. Kate worries about him and the dark nature of some of his drawings, and she worries that Lucien may be having problems with his mother, Veronica, and her career as a bestselling true crime writer.

Veronica's book is currently on the bestseller list and she is busy promoting it. The book, Murder at Black Swan Point, tells the story of one of the most notorious crimes in the area. In 1983 a young woman, Ellie Siddell, was brutally murdered by the wife of the man with whom she was having an affair. The wife's car was found at the edge of a cliff, and it was commonly believed that she threw herself off it, although her body was never found. Years later, Veronica was able to interview the husband before he died, and this interview, as well as some of the crime scene evidence, is explored in her book. She feels that there may be another explanation for the murder of Ellie and the wife's subsequent disappearance.

Kate finds herself both charmed and appalled by Veronica when she visits her son at the school, but Kate also becomes obsessed with the murder and finds herself drawn to Black Swan Point. As the details of Ellie Siddell's death are slowly revealed and the affair between Kate and Thomas gets more obsessive, it becomes obvious that history may repeat itself.

The action pauses throughout A Child's Book of True Crime for an account of the murder at Black Swan Point written for children, with animals indigenous to the continent of Australia taking the parts of the people involved. It is not until the end of the novel that we find out who is writing this story and why. Kate also involves her students in discussions involving everything from the meanings of words to ethical questions concerning behavior and whether actions have consequences.

One of the strong points of the narrative is the description of Tasmania and its history. Like much of Australia, Tasmania was a penal colony, and the history of the region involves the lives of the convicts. Children visit the prisons on field trips. The animals they encounter play a part in their everyday lives and are also very different for the non-Australian reader, making this not only an eerie read but also an instructive one. This is a story guaranteed to stay with you long after you've closed the covers. --Otto Penzler

About the Author:

Chloe Hooper was born in 1973. Her Observer article about the Doomadgee case, 'Island of Lost Souls', was shortlisted for the Amnesty International Media Awards. Her novels include The Tall Man, which won seven major literary awards in Australia and The Engagement, both published by Jonathan Cape.

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