The market for crime books, especially true crime books is enormous and growing every day. This book isn’t quite a crime story, nor is it a detective story, nor to be honest a biography. It is a mixture of love letter to the dead subject, Sallie Ann Huckstepp, and condemnation of the Sydney culture of the 1980s. There is much warmth regarding the places and people who inhabit the story but a rather sketchy picture of evil is presented possibly justly. Roger Rogerson is never examined in depth; Neddy Smith is a caricature; Warren Lanfranchi is a cartoon lover. All of these extraordinary figures are somewhat humbled by the author’s adoration of Sallie Ann. It is never revealed, nor can it really hope to be, what makes Sallie Ann Sallie Ann. It is, however what John Dale seeks. Only her death can be examined in ways that her life can never be. Dale offers the reader a vast array of court and documentary sources, but there is a tendency to offer too much of these as if to cling onto Sallie Ann like a parent holding photograph of a dead child.
The information is top quality, the research substantial. Dale writes well, when he allows himself the space to speak and write without worrying about how it might change the impressions the reader might have of Sallie Ann, and has researched everything with great zeal. There are times when he refers to himself as a figure in the story in the third person which never bodes well, being a kind of denial. It is book about love and as such completely different from Blue Murder or the endless Chopper and Neddy genre pieces and their drive toward a kind of authenticity of violence and masculinity. This approach has a lot going for it. It is kinder, gentler, and less judgemental for starters. There are no answers, of course, this is unrequited love. The narrative is lost, between William St and Elizabeth, but Sydney is beautiful.
In a strange way justice simply is not relevant to Dale’s investigation. He wants closure, answers, certainty. Dale does examine at times why he pursues Sallie Ann so vigorously after her death, occasionally admitting that he might be in love or at least obsessed. And this should be his real subject; how and why someone you’ve met only once or twice in passing, celebrity or not, can grab your conscious thoughts and dominate them. This is the work of the true detective. Dale prefers though to reconstruct Sallie Ann and know as much about her as possible. As if knowing information is as substantial as knowing a person and as if sharing this information is as wonderful as introducing a loved one to other loved ones. This is the limitation of the book, knowledge is not love. Detection is not revelation, even with a deep throat in the Feds.