Within the expanding "crime" sections in bookshops, is an expanding subsection - true crime. And within this subsection there could well be a further subsection: Australian true crime. The doyen of this genre is Helen Garner with Joe Cinque's Consolation and House of Grief.
Emma Partridge is no Helen Garner, but she does, like Garner, become personally involved with the people she writes about in The Witch of Walcha, an Australian true crime story containing many of the elements of a fictional crime novel: bizarre murder, suicide, theft, bribery, blackmail, love, hate, drugs, co-incidence, change of a will and lies.
Partridge is an experienced crime reporter; in August, 2017, she travelled to the New England town of Walcha (population 3,000), where the ostensible suicide of respected sheep farmer, Mathew, was being investigated by the local police and the State Crime Command's Homicide Squad.
Partridge knows that "bad things happen everywhere but when they happen in small towns, where everyone knows everyone, the sense of loss and shock seems to hit harder". She speaks with friends and neighbours, all of the opinion that Mathew was murdered by his recently acquired partner, Natasha Darcy. A previous partner of Darcy's, Colin - who survived several of Darcy's attempts on his life - is the first paramedic to attend the site of the "suicide". Colin's continuing friendly contact with Darcy further complicates the scenario.
When Darcy is charged with Mathew's murder, Partridge attends the trial, an account of which - from committal to sentence - comprises one third of the The Widow of Walcha's narrative.
There are word-for-word interviews between police and Darcy; transcripts of contents of computer hard drives, telephone conversations, text messages, and emails, along with accounts of the questioning of witnesses by the Crown prosecutor. Partridge describes many of the people - jury members included - who take part in the trial and explains the court process and some of the terms used by the legal practitioners.
Gradually a picture of Darcy emerges: her criminality, her deviousness, her ruthlessness, her treatment of previous partners, her cleverness and her not-so cleverness. Although the reader has little doubt of the eventual verdict, Partridge manages to render the period during which the jury is considering the verdict suspenseful.
After the sentencing, Partridge returns to Walcha and tracks down several of Darcy's previous partners who relate their experiences with Darcy - experiences that did not come out in the trial.
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