It’s a cliché, but in this case it’s apt; if you came across a scenario like this in crime fiction you’d be hard pressed to stop your eyes from rolling. As is often the way, however, true life defies anything the very best fiction writers can come up with.
In early 2004 Kylie Labouchardiere walked out of her grandmother’s house and vanished. Kylie was prone to walking out, although her latest excursions had been major decisions: out of a marriage that was barely a year old and then out of a nursing course that she’d been so keen to undertake. Her grandmother thought there might be a new man in her life, but Kylie was sometimes a secretive girl, sometimes a bit of a drama queen. Her family was never really sure exactly what was going on in her life.
Avoiding any hint of victim blaming, Duffy, in Call Me Cruel, looks at the personalities of both the victim and the perpetrator. Kylie was the daughter of divorced, absent parents. Her father left the marriage and the children when Kylie was very young, something he later acknowledged with considerable regret. Her mother went on to a long-term marriage to a violent and controlling man. Kylie and her two older siblings were sent to live with their maternal grandmother, who was unable to prevent Kylie’s exposure to her stepfather’s brutality and her mother’s decision to stay despite the batterings she received. Kylie, obviously strongly affected by what she saw in that relationship, was a strange combination of naïve, lonely young woman and manipulator, whose misfortune was to come into contact with Paul Wilkinson.
Wilkinson was an Aboriginal Community Liaison Officer with the NSW police, married, with a young son. He was a master manipulator, utterly ruthless and self-serving. He’d had a lifetime’s experience of lying, cheating, fabricating, fantasising and manipulating people but, with Kylie, he added a whole new dimension. In the brief four or so months of their affair, the couple exchanged over 20 000 text messages. The relationship was all-encompassing, and dangerous. Wilkinson convinced Kylie to write threatening letters to his wife to get her out of the house; he lied about leaving his wife; he lied about a life in the bush; he lied about his intentions even after Kylie discovered she was pregnant. Then he killed her, stole her money, hid her body, ruined one policeman’s professional and personal life, and tortured Kylie’s family by refusing to reveal what he had done and where Kylie’s body was buried. All for reasons that Call Me Cruel attempts to explain. The book certainly comes up with possible explanations, and explores the known facts of the case in a measured and careful manner, despite the apparently inexplicable nature of Wilkinson’s behaviour.
It took five years to bring Wilkinson to trial and a guilty verdict for the murder of Kylie. During that time he sent police on many expensive wild-goose chases after her final burial location. He built massive, complex and rambling fantasies around every aspect of his life and the case, forcing police down many pointless investigative lines just because he could. He played games with the justice system, he played games with his lawyers, but, at the end of the whole, drawn-out, nasty scenario he was found guilty and he went to jail.
Call Me Cruel is a considered, sensitive and insightful look at a murderer anybody would struggle to explain: while there is the obvious motive of self-interest, there seems to be the distinct possibility that all Wilkinson ever really wanted was attention and limelight. Let’s hope that somewhere under that self-involved hide there’s a glimmer of realisation that in some cases any publicity is not good publicity.
Michael Duffy Call Me Cruel, Allen & Unwin, 2013, PB, 296pp, $22.99
Karen Chisholm reads a lot of crime, when she’s not wandering around the farmyard after pet alpacas, pigs, poultry, cats and dogs. She posts book reviews, author and book bios at http://www.austcrimefiction.org.
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