- this edition published by Scribe 2017
- ISBN 978-1-925321-97-5
- 295 pages
- Review copy supplied by publisher
At midnight on 28 December 1864, in the Australian gold-mining town of Daylesford, young newly-wed Maggie Stuart lies dead in her own blood. Rumour and xenophobia drive speculation over the identity of her killer, and when a suspect is apprehended, police incompetence and defence counsel negligence bring yet more distortion to the wheels of justice.
In this climate of prejudice and ineptitude, it seems only Detective Otto Berliner is able to keep an objective mind and recognise that something is terribly wrong. He intends to put matters right, though all the odds are against him.
The Author's Note says
"This story is based on a murder committed in the gold-mining town of Daylesford, Australia in 1864. The names of some characters have been changed, but all the characters herein are based on real people."
In fact many of the names of the characters are not changed.
The first two thirds of the book deal with the murder and the subsequent 3 day trial. My research shows that the author relied very heavily on the newspaper records of the time, sometimes using them almost verbatim. This part reminded me very much of what Truman Capote called a non-fiction novel.
At first two suspects are jailed for the murder of Maggie Stuart, but one is eventually released. The other spends 7 months in jail as the police build a case against him. Most of the evidence is circumstantial and some vital evidence is totally missing,
Otto Berliner is an inspector in the Victoria Police, on leave, hoping to set himself up in the near future as a private detective. He does not attend the trial, but a friend does, and he takes notes which Berliner later finds useful.
Berliner goes to New Zealand for some time and returns just a week or so before the convicted murderer is due to be executed. He is convinced that the convicted man is innocent, and so from this time, there is a race against time to see if he can discover the murderer and get a stay of exceution.
I think the structure of the novel worked against the building of real tension until the final few pages. However it does present the case against the police well, as being too quick to adopt an easy solution, and too lazy to ask real questions.
My rating: 4.4
About the author
Greg Pyers grew up in the small Victorian town of Daylesford. As a boy, he read the books of Gerald Durrell, and many years later, worked at Durrell’s famous Jersey Zoo. Greg became a full-time writer in 1998, following eight years as an educator in zoos, and several years as a post-primary schoolteacher. He went on to write 160 natural history books and three novels for children. Greg Pyers was short listed in the 2005 Children’s Book Council Awards in the non-fiction category. He won a 2004 Whitley Award from the Royal Zoological Society of NSW for Life in a Rock Pool, Gum Tree, Creek, and Desert Dune. In The Wilderness Society’s 2002 Environment Award For Children’s Literature, he won a Lifetime Achievement Award for his outstanding contribution to children’s environmental literature. In 2005, Greg won another Wilderness Society Award, this time for non-fiction. The Unfortunate Victim is Greg’s first work of adult fiction.