The Unbelieved by Vikki Petraitis won the inaugural Allen & Unwin Crime Fiction prize last year and it’s certainly well-deserved. I note Petraitis has written a number of true crime books and I’m not surprised as her story-telling ability is strong and attention to detail, impressive. This book and the events within felt real, as if we readers are privy to real life pain, anger and guilt.
by Vikki Petraitis
Published by Allen & Unwin
Source: Allen & Unwin
Genres: Crime Fiction, Legal Procedural
'So you believed the alleged rapists over the alleged victim?' Jane's voice took on an indignant pitch. 'Girls lie sometimes.'
I nodded. 'And rapists lie all the time.'
When Senior Detective Antigone Pollard moves to the coastal town of Deception Bay, she is still in shock and grief. Back in Melbourne, one of her cases had gone catastrophically wrong, and to escape the guilt and the haunting memories, she'd requested a transfer to the quiet town she'd grown up in.
But there are some things you can't run from. A month into her new life, she is targeted by a would-be rapist at the pub, and realises why there have been no convictions following a spate of similar sexual attacks in the surrounding district. The male witnesses in the pub back her attacker and even her boss doesn't believe her.
Hers is the first reported case in Deception Bay, but soon there are more. As Antigone searches for answers, she encounters a wall of silence in the town built of secrets and denial and fear. The women of Deception Bay are scared and the law is not on their side.
The nightmare has followed her home.
I liked that Petraitis kicks off this book some time into Antigone’s relocation to Deception Bay rather than on her arrival. It felt comfortable and settled rather than fresh or new. She’s got a great relationship with her partner Warren (Wozza), though her boss is less-than-supportive.
The book opens with a bit of a bang which I won’t spoil here but it sets the tone for what’s to come and we learn that there have been a spate of sexual assaults on young women in the region. The blurb above includes reference to an early discussion Antigone has with a (female) constable and it also gives us some insight into what lies before us and the challenges Antigone (and other women in the town) face. Of course it reverberates more widely, reflecting what’s happening in the real world, as well.
Petraitis very deftly gives us some backstory into the case that ‘broke’ Antigone’s heart/spirit and had her returning home to the place she spent with her grandmother when young.
Antigone is a great character. Strong and seemingly impervious but also struggling with guilt and regret.
I also loved Wozza and realise it’d be tempting to have Antigone ‘fight the good fight’ with no support but Petraitis makes the point (as does Antigone) of appreciating her partner’s sensitivity and sympathy toward victims (I almost said his ‘evolvedness’ and hate that we’re surprised when a male is, rather than expecting it to be the case!) .
Amidst the investigation into the assaults Antigone learns of a case a decade earlier (featured in the prologue) involving a murder and suicide; which left a toddler parentless. After meeting the now-teenaged ‘toddler’ Antigone looks into the investigation and realises it seems a little underdone and a few discrepancies pique her interest.
Petraitis offers strong themes around sexual assault and domestic and family violence here. It’s not just resonant in the cases under investigation, but we’re reminded how endemic it can be within a community. In some ways I struggled to believe that an entire town could be soooo corrupted, but there’s a gorgeous scene in which Antigone sees a husband verbally abusing his wife and intervenes. The wife (well-known in town, as is her husband!) is shocked. ‘You see me,’ she says to Antigone, surprised; and it’s a very sad reminder that we’re all guilty of not calling out the unacceptable behaviour of others.
I really enjoyed meeting Antigone and strongly suspect there’ll be more in this series and I’m certainly looking forward to future outings.
The Unbelieved by Vikki Petraitis was published in Australia by Allen & Unwin in early August 2022.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.
PS. And I love the name Antigone. Though wonder how it’s pronounced? Anti-gone?