This is an engaging volume, despite having remarkably few virtues. Bainbridge has trawled through old files (notably those of the police, but with the Truth newspaper not far behind) and exhumed, as the title promises, murders which with one exception were never solved. The style is often of the “I then proceeded for two blocks in a southerly direction and observed the suspect” variety. For all this, characters do come to life, in many cases because we have met them ourselves. Who does not know a Gwen Scarff, ever believing her married lover’s promise that he will leave his wife so they can start a new life together? The vulgar hotelier- and probable murderer- Elizabeth Fraser is a standout. This is New Zealand of grocers’ boys and bookies, housemaids and ladies’ companions. Crimes are motivates by repressed sexuality, thwarted love, media-fuelled dreams of glamour, territorial disputes and plain avarice- in other words, exactly the same motives that lead people to commit crimes today.
One of the few differences of any substance is that the boyfriends of today’s Gwen Scarffs do not have to procure abortifacients to resolve the inconvenient pregnancies they have caused.
There is a frission in knowing that in all these cases someone- almost certainly someone discussed here as a suspect- went to their grave without paying for their crime. And this at a time when most of these killings would have incurred the death penalty. By definition, the stories finish but do not have conclusions. They are open-ended, which, coupled with the oddly personality free prose, makes for a surprisingly “literary” read.
North & South, Feb 2011