Tag Archives: true crime

The Tall Man: Death and Life on Palm Island, by Chloe Hooper

2008; Penguin Books

278 pages; $24.95

I read The Tall Man for the ‘true crime’ genre in the Literary Exploration reading challenge. I don’t read much crime, true or otherwise, and wasn’t sure what to expect. I was blown away.

Chloe Hooper’s The Tall Man has won countless awards since its publication in 2008, but I would take that further and say that it should be required reading for every Australian. I knew embarrassingly little about the case before I read this book.

The 2004 death of Cameron Doomadgee, in custody on Palm Island, the subsequent riot on the island, and the inquest into his death – allegedly at the hands of Senior Sergeant Christopher Hurley – are explored by Hooper, who followed the case for nearly three years. She interviewed many of the major players on the island, and even traveled to the remote Queensland outback to speak to Doomadgee’s family. 

The book drew inevitable comparisons to Truman Capote’s true-crime masterpiece In Cold Blood, though the approaches are quite different. The Tall Man is gritty and rather depressing, but has a more journalistic voice than Capote’s. The text is spotted with evocative, and at times beautiful, turns of phrase, however. Of the accused, Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley, and his history of requesting remote posts: ‘Perhaps these communities drew him with their power – the proximity to sex and death and beauty and horror; to songlines that are badly frayed but still give off some charge; to what is ancient, our deepest fear that good and evil spirits make sport with us.

Systematic racism in the Queensland police force is something that almost every Queenslander is aware of to some degree. Even more so is the novel’s setting – the scene of the crime. Mention the name ‘Palm Island’ to anyone over the age of twenty-four and you’ll get knowing, but perhaps dismissive, nods. The inquest into Doomadgee’s death was marred by racism, corruption, and a general lack of interest from the rest of the country. From Hooper’s account, it’s clear – despite the inquest’s findings – that Cameron Doomadgee was killed by Chris Hurley.

The triumph of The Tall Man is not in the suspense of waiting to see what happens – the reality of the story can be found in the news or Wikipedia articles. What draws you in here, and what holds you there, is the weaving of the myriad threads – most of them frustratingly unresolved – into a cohesive whole. Particularly affecting is the story of the local evil spirits – the Tall Man – who ‘will bash you, but they won’t kill you. That’s all they do to you.‘ The reference to Chris Hurley – who is two meters tall – is clear. Hurley may not have meant to kill anybody – but he did.

This is an engrossing and affecting read. The story is almost ten years old, but sadly remains as timely as when it was published. It would be suitable for anyone with an interest in Queensland politics, police racism, or general true crime.


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2013 Literary Exploration challenge, part five

This is it.

We’ve reached the end. Today, I’ll list the last nine books for the Literary Exploration reading challenge this year.

28. Romance


There’s plenty of novels which are romantic. But for my romance selection, I’m going to go to the bookshop’s Mills & Boon/Harlequin section and pick the pulpiest thing I can find – bonus points for muscular, hairless torsos on the cover. Then I will read it, and I will blog about it. Actually, the only pulp (or ‘category’) romance I’ve read was in the Historical category, and it was very bad. I know they’re not really for me, but I’ll give it a shot! Exploration.

29. Science Fiction

Reader’s choice.

Science Fiction is a gigantic genre. There’s so much ‘classic’ scifi which I’ve never read – things like Asimov, Wells, and Card – so I could choose something from that region. I’ve loved the cyberpunk I’ve read too, so I could pick something else by Stephenson or Gibson. Then there’s spec fic; although a lot of those seem to be in the ‘magic-girl-cover’ region, there’s potential there too. In the end, it’s too hard. So I’m opening it up to you, reader. What’s the best sci-fi book you’ve ever read? If I haven’t already, I’ll read it this year. What will you do with this power?

30. Steampunk

Richard Ford. Kultus.

I love steampunk books which don’t take themselves too seriously. I read one last year which had tesla coil walking sticks, zombies, and a steam-powered Queen Victoria, but it was so earnest as to be silly. So, for my next foray into steam and gears, I’ve chosen Kultus, by Richard Ford (not that Richard Ford). It’s about a mercenary trying to stop a cult from opening the gates of Hell. His name is Thaddeus Blacklok. I’m sold.

31. Supernatural

Glen Duncan. Talulla Rising.

I’m cheating a little bit on this one (can you tell we’re getting to the end of the list?). I read Glen Duncan’s The Last Werewolf last year, and thought it did a fine job of making an interesting story out of everyone’s second-favourite overdone supernatural creatures: werewolves. It ended suddenly, with a note of hope (for the werewolves, anyway – maybe not for soft, slow, edible humanity). I thought it was a great ending. Naturally, a sequel appeared last year, and I believe there’s a third and final part coming out in 2014 as well. Despite a sequel seeming a little unnecessary, Talulla Rising should be a good read.

32. Thriller

Gillian Flynn. Dark Places.

After reading Gillian Flynn’s latest, Gone Girl, I always intended to check out her earlier ones as well. Dark Places is considered on par with Gone Girl, so I’m excited to read it. Sadly (?) it bears no connection to the other Darkplace.



33. True Crime

Chloe Hooper. The Tall Man.

I had trouble picking a True Crime book. It’s another genre that I don’t have a lot of experience in. It made sense to look at something Australian, and I remember the story from 2004, so I’ll be reading The Tall Man.




34. Urban Fantasy

Jim Butcher. Storm Front.

Okay. Let’s take a little walk down Memory Avenue (that’s the phrase, right?). At the beginning of 2011, I was trying to decide what to do with my life. I’d signed up for the National Novel-Writing Month, but was terrified about actually having to write anything. So I searched online for writing guides, and found one from Jim Butcher, author of the Dresden Files series. I read it front to back, and felt really confident about writing a novel.

November rolled around. I mostly ignored the writing guide, churned out fifty thousand execrable words of dystopian sci-fi ghost story, realised I needed some direction, and went back to university to study writing and editing. Despite his influence in helping me develop life goals, I’ve never actually read any of Butcher’s novels. Which is strange, because they’re occult/supernatural hardboiled detective stories. I can’t wait.

35. Victorian

Charles Dickens. David Copperfield.

I had a lot of options here, so, as I’m inclined to do, I tried to hit the best of the best. I’m ashamed to admit that the closest I’ve come to reading Dickens is A Muppet Christmas Carol, so it made a lot of sense to read Dickens’ own favourite.




36. Young Adult

Paolo Bacigalupi. Ship Breaker.

Last year I read Bacigalupi’s breakthrough novel The Windup Girl, and although the story didn’t really grab me, the setting was one of my favourite dystopian futures yet. I’m not sure if Ship Breaker is set in the same universe, but with Bacigalupi’s expertise in environmental-apocalypse writing, I’m looking forward to finding out.

Well, that’s about it! I’m still looking for feedback and suggestions for these categories, so let me know if anything comes to mind.

I’ve already finished one book on my reading list so far – Krissy Kneen’s Triptych. It’s a confronting read, and very, very interesting, so I’ll try to get my thoughts straight and post something about it soon.


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