SUBURBAN NOIR By Peter Doyle (NewSouth, October 2022)
Peter Doyle’s Suburban Noir: Crime And Mishap In 1950s and 1960s Sydney (NewSouth, October 2022) is one of the most fascinating books I have read all year.
Drawing partly on the private papers of his late uncle, Assistant Police Commissioner Brian Doyle, author and noted curator Peter Doyle takes the reader on an enthralling journey through the dark side of Sydney in the 1950s and 1960s. Combining his uncle’s papers with his own research, and some very revealing crime photos, Doyle paints a vivid picture of everyday crime and life in Sydney during a time of great change.
With a couple of exceptions, he does not focus on the big headline making crimes, but on the everyday encounters between the police and errant inhabitants of Sydney. There is a rich selection of well described vignettes from small time heists gone wrong to the arsenic poisoning of a young man by a thirteen year old girl, all because her parents had been “cranky” to her, to the truly tragic strangling of a three month old baby by his 18 year old mother. There is also humour in some of the stories and just plain weirdness, as in the 1968 siege where mid-siege the armed gunman married the woman he held hostage, with two police detectives being the witnesses. They also gave the gunman a loaded Armalite rifle, which prolonged the siege for a couple of days.
Doyle also covers in more detail a couple of the bigger cases that Brian Doyle was involved with, including the tragic kidnapping of Graeme Thorne, and the hunt for the Kingsgrove Slasher. The hunt for the Kingsgrove Slasher is particularly interesting for what it shows about police practices at the time and the attitudes of the public caught up in the hunt.
Mingled in with the stories are Doyle’s insightful reflections on society and the changes that were occurring in the 1960s. Also scattered throughout the book are a fascinating selection of police crime photos, which not only illustrate the crimes, but also provide insight into 1950s and 60s fashions and lifestyles. Peter Doyle’s personal memories also add greatly to the book, as do his simple drawings.
At the beginning of the book, Doyle says that Suburban Noir is not history or sociology, but he is wrong, it is one of the most revealing, insightful and readable accounts of Sydney during the mid-twentieth century that I have read. His observations and stories shine fresh light on what was really happening in the alleys, backyards, and bedrooms of mid-century Sydney and provide a rich reflection of the time. Highly recommended.
Suburban Noir was released by NewSouth on October 2022.
Thanks to the publisher and the Canberra Times for an advanced copy of the book.
A shorter version of this review can be found at the Canberra Weekly site: https://canberraweekly.com.au/book-talk-new-books-from-australian-authors/