Full marks to Scott Bainbridge. What a determined fossicker of facts he has proved to be in writing Shot in the Dark. As the sub-title proclaims, this book is about unsolved New Zealand murder cases from the 1920s and 1930s.
Although long a member of the “elderly” group of readers, I must confess that I was completely ignorant of the good ration of murders which Bainbridge details, and which obviously captured the attention of the nation.
The murder of Constable Dorgan, the Arch Hill Mystery, The Aramoho Murder, The Tragic Tale of Elsie Walker, the Riccarton Racecourse Hotel Murder…they meant nothing to me until I read Bainbridge’s extremely thorough compilation.
Bainbridge, a Hamilton-based “investigator” responsible for the television series The Missing, rightly, and sadly, points out that today, murders occur almost daily. I can’t agree, though, with his assertion “only some make the headlines.”
He’s on firmer ground when he observes that the early 20th century was a time of innocence- well, for New Zealand, anyway, after the blood-letting of World War 1- and each murder continued to make front-page headlines throughout the subsequent investigation and trial.
“Much of the publicity stemmed from sensational reporting bordering on the crime fiction made popular by Ngaio Marsh and Agatha Christie,” he writes. “This was largely done in response to a lack of communication by police, some of whom distrusted media.’ Bainbridge acknowledges the importance newspapers played in maintaining public interest at the time when they were virtually the only source of media available to all New Zealanders.
He gives credit to the co-operation he received from the New Zealand Police in writing this work. I was impressed with the abundant detail he has unearthed in discussing the various unsolved murders, which have yielded a book of nearly 300 pages.
Having read the very full accounts of these crimes, I cannot resist repeating the cliché: truth is stranger than fiction. The readers who toss aside their thrillers for a bit will be amply rewarded spending time with Shot in the Dark.
If the prose tends towards the pedestrian, the nine individual chapters are still guaranteed to hold ones attention from go to whoa. Included in the unsolved murders’ roundup are 24 monochrome photographs.
Otago Daily Times, 5 Feb 2011