- Published 2012 by NewSouth Publishing
- ISBN 9-781742-233505
- 220 pages
- source: I bought it
In 1948 a man was found dead on an Adelaide beach. Well-dressed and unmarked, he had a half-smoked cigarette by his side, but no identity documents.
Six decades on we don’t know who he was, how he got there or how he died. Somerton Man remains one of Australia’s most mysterious cold cases.
Yet it is the bizarre details of this case that make it the stuff of a spy novel. The missing labels from all his clothing. The tiny piece of paper with the words 'Tamam Shud' found sewn into the lining of the dead man’s coat. A mysterious code found etched inside the very book of Persian poetry from which this note was torn.
Brimming with facts that are stranger than fiction, the case has intrigued novelist Kerry Greenwood for almost her whole life. She goes on a journey into her own past to try to solve this crime, uncovering a new way of writing about true crime – and herself – as she goes.
Let me point out first of all that there is only a tiny bit of crime fiction in this book - a short story in the last pages titled Tamam Shud: A Phryne Fisher Mystery in which Greenwood's popular sleuth solves the Somerton Man mystery.
The majority of the book covers the Somerton Man mystery and Greenwood uses it as a vehicle for paying tribute to her story telling wharfie father, a mountain of autobiographical detail, and telling us about Adelaide which seems to specialise in peculiar murders.
The book was of particular interest to me on two counts: the first related to hearing Greenwood speak at Adelaide Writer's Week yesterday, and the second because of the Adelaide setting, which is of course where I live.
The book provides an opportunity for Greenwood to tell us a lot about her background, which we don't get much of in either her Phryne Fisher or Corinna Chapman books.
To me it feels a less disciplined book than either of those series, with Greenwood allowing herself to ramble tangentially from topic to topic, in fact over a diverse range of topics.
There's a glimpse of Adelaide just after the war, as well as in the 1970s. There are peeks into Greenwood's family history as well as references to her childhood and adult life. There are references to the nature of poisons, the use of ear shapes for identification purposes, to events in world and Australian history, to the murders and disappearance of children in Adelaide, and then to some of the more popular explanations for the death of the Somerton Man.
All that "true crime" detail is nicely complemented by the Phryne Fisher story at the end.
My rating: 4.3
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