Thursday, 17 September 2015

Review of Sandy Meredith's A Death in Custody


Blood on the Streets as a Town Explodes' boomed the front page of the Sydney Morning Herald one winter's morning in 1987. Heavily armed police had been dispatched to quell a 'race riot' in a northern New South Wales town after yet another young Aboriginal man had died in police custody. Intent on learning the real story behind the headlines, Lou Williams, aspiring investigative journalist, goes north. Each character she meets -- country and western singers, community elders, militants and mechanics -- give her a fragment of the truth. In 'a death in custody' these fragments combine into a mosaic stained with entrenched and deadly racism.

This story is a fictional account of events that ignited anger, suspicion and outrage across Australia, and that led to the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody which investigated the deaths of 99 Aboriginals in police custody in the 1980s. Little has changed since then.

Where do I start, this book has a really important message in it about racism and the unfair treatment of Aboriginals. A problem not unique to Australia. My problem with this book is Lou the main character. I really couldn't relate to this girl, who seemed to be this bipolar, chain smoking alcoholic. Lou's point of view made it really hard to get through this book. I can't tell you how many times I face palmed because this girl was such an idiot. Through the voices of the other characters the author dumps a lot of important facts surrounding Aboriginals in the 80s.  However since I found it not to be focused the message got lost and for me this book read more like an essay than a work of fiction. I would recommend this book for those who are interested in knowing about Aboriginal situation in Australia in the 80s. 3/5 diamonds


  1. Thanks for the review! The question is, why doesn't Lou Williams already know what the situation is for Aborigines in Australia? Why doesn't she know the history? She's been living there in Australia all her life (she's 19 years old). She's supposed to make you face palm, but also to make you ask why Australians allow the abusive treatment of Aborigines to continue. Lou's ignorant and naïve, but she's tough, she's open. She learns more in 24 hours than she's learnt in her whole life, and she will grow from the experience (see my next book). But in Australia, for Aborigines, 2015 is no better than the 1980s. Why?

    1. It's not her ignorance of the Aboriginals that makes me face palm it's her lack of comment sense. I also think it's all the smoking and drinking that she does that really doesn't help me sympathize with this character. I really had a hard time seeing her as a 19 yr old, I read her more as a 25 yr old.

    2. Ah, you don't like the drinking and smoking! Guess you don't like Dashiell Hammett's Sam Spade character either. By the way, you shouldn't use bipolar as an insult. It's a disease that makes life very hard for those who suffer from it.

    3. First things first Sam Spade is a 1930's detective and is not 19, which makes his smoking and drinking believable, unlike your character. In addition, me describing you character as bipolar is not an insult but a description of how she acts in your book.

  2. Lou’s got vices, that’s for sure. And she’s slow to grapple with what she’s seeing, learning. She’s out of her depth. She just soaks it all up. By the end, she still hasn’t seen the light, she’s no hero; she’s just excited about her new boyfriend and driving the V8. Understanding will have to wait for tomorrow. The whole story happens in 24 hours, and Lou’s young, she has time yet to grow, develop, change, and she does (next book). Her lack of common sense, her tendency to make you face palm, as you so nicely put it, is intentional. It’s a didactic novel, aimed at upper high school youth, intended to teach readers about the world they live in but also to make them ask why, and then to ask, what is to be done? You see it in old Mary at the end, when she sadly concludes ‘we should have done something a long time ago’.
    Thanks again for reading ‘A Death in Custody’, and for this discussion.