Review: Reasonable Doubt by Xanthé Mallett


Title: Reasonable Doubt

Author: Xanthé Mallett

Published: July 28th 2020, Macmillan Australia

Status: Read August 2020, courtesy Pan Macmillan Australia


My Thoughts:

In Reasonable Doubt forensic anthropologist and criminologist Xanthé Mallett examines the flaws in the Australian criminal justice system that have contributed to five wrongful murder convictions, and a shocking legal scandal whose repercussions will likely see the guilty go free.

Reasonable Doubt is not intended as an indictment of the system as a whole, Mallett’s focus is on the failures of law that lead to a wrongful conviction, irrespective of the innocence or guilt of the accused. She presents an intelligent and thoughtful study of its weaknesses, which range from poor police investigative processes, to unreliable evidence, to corruption, resulting in convictions that ostensibly contradict the intent of justice.

While I’ve always accepted miscarriages of justice happen, I was still shocked to learn just how badly things can go wrong, and how difficult it is to correct those mistakes. The case studies presented span the country, and involve alleged perpetrators from different socioeconomic backgrounds and races. I was only vaguely familiar with two of them but found each case fascinating.

Mallett’s research appears to be meticulous and impartial, based on her investigation of the facts available. She includes information from experts in their fields to explain relevant legal concepts or provide further forensic detail.

With its accessible narrative, and thought-provoking and fascinating subject, Reasonable Doubt is a must read for fans of the true crime genre, or anyone with interest in the Australian legal system.


Available from Pan Macmillan Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Review: Boys & Sex by Peggy Orenstein


Title: Boys & Sex: Young Men on Hook-ups, Love, Porn, Consent and Navigating the New Masculinity

Author: Peggy Orenstein

Published: July 1st 2020, Profile Books

Status: Read July 2020 courtesy Allen and Unwin


My Thoughts:

Negotiating sexuality and relationships today is arguably more complicated than when I was teenager and as the mother of two teenage boys (and girls) I hoped Boys & Sex might provide me with some insights into areas I may have not considered as part of my discussions with them.

The ‘sex talk’ has never been a single conversation in our house, it’s been the subject of casual discourse over the years as they’ve grown, often initiated as the result of news stories, gossip, or issues faced by their peers. We’ve talked about most of the topics explored in this book, though I’ve learnt from Orenstein via the young men that she interviews, that I can do more.

Thankfully my sons are surrounded by good role models, but one of the most significant takeaways for me from the book is that my boys need the men in their life, particularly their father, to better verbalise their experience, opinions and feelings about relationships, sex and masculinity. Despite my best intentions, it will be the other men with whom they connect that will significantly shape their response to the situations raised in Boys & Sex, and my empathy is not a substitute for their shared experience.

I do feel Orenstein’s sampling for her research was quite small (100 young men), and very USA-centric, which meant for me there were elements I didn’t find directly relevant. Racial issues and the experience of college/university life differs here for example, also a Personal Development, Health, and Physical Education syllabus from years K-10 is compulsory in all public schools in Australia. In general this is a medically accurate, current, and inclusive program that explores physical, social and emotional aspects of sexuality in some detail (that abstinence-only is still a feature in any modern day curriculum is absurd). That said I do prefer the anecdotal approach Orenstein has taken, as scientific methodology tends to lack urgency and nuance.

I would recommend Boys & Sex to parents, and suggest it be shared and discussed with teens of both sexes, as both will benefit from the information. An extensive bibliography provides additional resources to ensure we raise “…our boys to be the men we know they can become.”


Available from Allen & Unwin Australia RRP. AUD$29.99

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I Indiebound

Review: Fake Law by The Secret Barrister

Title: Fake Law: The Truth About Justice in the Age of Lies

Author: The Secret Barrister

Published: April 28th 2020, Picador

Status: Read April 2020 courtesy Pan Macmillan Au/Netgalley


My Thoughts:


I like to think I’m a critical thinker, I don’t just rely on the first page of google results for information, I never take Facebook posts or tweets at face value, and I’m sceptical of media headlines. In this day and age with information so freely available it should follow that the truth has no where to hide, but instead it increasingly feels as if truth is getting harder to find. It’s simplified to the point of meaninglessness by traditional media, ignored as inconvenient by politicians, twisted in favour of click bait tiles, and buried under social media pile-ons.

Nowhere is this more an issue than in the reporting on the law. “Fake Law”, the Secret Barrister writes, “[is the] distortion[s] of legal cases and judgments, spun and reformed for mass consumption.” Bias is implicit in communication, for which some allowances can be made, but a deliberate campaign to present misinformation as truth erodes society.

“Society only functions if we all abide by common, agreed rules. If we don’t understand our justice system, and if our comprehension is corrupted by misinformation, we can’t properly engage with arguments over its functioning. We can’t critically evaluate its performance, identify its flaws, propose sensible reform or even participate meaningfully in everyday conversation about the stories in the news. Our unfamiliarity also makes us vulnerable to those who would exploit the gaps in our knowledge to push ulterior agendas.”

The Secret Barrister supports his/her argument with examples from several different areas of law including Civil Compensation, Human Rights Law and Criminal Justice. He/she examines high profile cases to show how the media, politicians and/or special interest groups misunderstand or misinterpret the nuance of law. Sometimes this could be blamed on ignorance, the law is complicated and at times convoluted, but too often it is deliberately reframed in order to manipulate or inflame debate to suit an agenda, from oversimplifying the medical issues pertaining to a dying child, to selectively reporting the facts of a home invasion, or promoting ‘exceptional’ cases as the norm to justify capping insurance claim amounts or cutting the budget of Legal Aid.

“It is bizarre that, for a nation so clearly susceptible to suspicion of ulterior motive, we disengage our critical faculties and swallow blindly the propaganda of billion-pound insurance companies. We lie back and allow ourselves to be enveloped in misinformed resentment towards our suffering neighbours receiving restitution, viewing it as a sore on, rather than a credit to, a civilised society.”

I found the range of examples fascinating to read about, some of which I was familiar with, some not. The cases are specific to the UK and its legal system (which is similar enough to the Australia’s that I understand the generalities) but ‘fake law’ is not a phenomenon unique to the UK. It is evident everywhere, under every regime, and has already had an impact on the integrity of legal process, which is particularly noticeable in country’s where the judicial system is unduly influenced by political stakeholders. The law is not perfect, something The Secret Barrister willingly admits, but its principals are worth defending.

“If we lose judicial independence, we lose the rule of law. The day a judge makes a binding decision affecting the rights and liberties of one of us, not on the legal and factual merits, but with a nervous glance to the press and public galleries, or with a beady eye on political favour or punishment, is the day that the decay in our democracy turns terminal.”

I found The Secret Barrister’s narrative to be very readable, the tone personable and the information is presented in a logical and accessible manner. There is a lot to explore, examine, and debate in Fake Law, and I’m happy to recommend you do.



Available from Pan Macmillan Au

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Review: Truganini by Cassandra Pybus

Title: Truganini: Journey Through the Apocalypse

Author: Cassandra Pybus

Published: March 3rd 2020, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read March 2020 courtesy Allen & Unwin


My Thoughts:

Inspired by her ancestors connection to the woman known as the ‘last Tasmanian Aborigine’, Truganini by Cassandra Pybus, is a stunning historical biography.

Born around 1812 on Bruny Island, Truganini survived the capture, forced relocation, attempted assimilation and sanctioned extermination of the First Nations population of Tasmania, before dying in 1876. Drawing on a number of historical sources, including personal journals, oral histories, government records, and newspaper archives, Pybus pieces together the story of Truganini’s extraordinary life.

Placed under the ‘protection’ of Christian missionary George Robinson as a teenager she was induced to behave as his emissary/guide aiding in his self-appointed task to ‘save’ the indigenous peoples, by leading them Into exile. She was to spend more than a decade with Robinson, accompanying him to ‘New Holland’, before fleeing his patronage, only to be accused of murder and be sent into exile on Flinders Island, and later Oyster Cove. Even in death she was denied self-determination, her wish to be cremated and her ashes spread over the D’Entrecasteaux Channel ignored for over a hundred years.

Honestly I have no words to communicate the deep sorrow I feel for the fate of Truganini and all of the indigenous peoples. This harrowing narrative reveals a spirited and courageous woman who suffered unimaginable losses – the annihilation of her country, her culture, her kin, and her identity. Pybus’s account is rendered with honesty and empathy, shedding light on the shameful history Australia is yet to reconcile.

Profound, poignant, and perceptive, Truganini should be required reading for all Australian’s to aid in our understanding of, and acknowledgement of, our past.


Available from Allen & Unwin. RRP AUD $32.99

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository