Most of us remember the story of Akon Guode. Akon is a South Sudanese born woman who emigrated to Melbourne to escape civil war. There she found a new home among members of her hometown in a strange and culturally jarring world. No one could anticipate that Akon was on the verge of despair, until she drove her car into a lake with her four children inside. She swam to safety, but three of her little ones drowned.
This murderous scene flooded headlines across the nation, not only because of its eerie resemblance to the Robert Farquharson Father’s Day murders, which were the subject of Helen Garner’s bestselling This House of Grief, but also because the inquest revealed a bizarre love triangle behind the tragedy.
Akon, it transpired, was embroiled in a romantic affair with a married man, the father of the children. Her defence team sensationally claimed she was the innocent victim of witchcraft practised by the man’s wife, however, they quickly changed her plea to guilty.
It is this harrowing combination of absurdity and misery that defines Robin Bowles’s collection of true crime cases in Accidental Death? They function like a book of short stories—except these events actually happened, and readers are given an intimate and thoughtful glimpse at how tragedy can stain a life.
In Tasmania, a young girl called Natalie died suddenly when a Mercedes Benz zipped around a bend on the wrong side of the road and collided head-on with the car she was driving. Although the media and Natalie’s parents assumed it would be a straightforward case of manslaughter, the Mercedes’ driver turned out to be Tasmania’s Director of Public Prosecutions, Tim Ellis, who pleaded not guilty.
What Bowles does in Accidental Death? is invite readers to empathise with the survivors whose lives are upended and irrevocably altered by ‘accidents’ that expose them to public scrutiny and ones which ultimately turn out to be something far more sinister. These short, sometimes novella-length court cases highlight the chasm between law and justice, as many people who evaded prison sentences or pleaded their innocence appeared to be guilty. It makes for riveting reading, as Bowles is an incisive, quick-witted, and luminescent writer.
Fans of Chloe Hooper, Helen Garner and Netflix true-crime documentaries should be chomping at the bit to get their hands on a copy of Accidental Death? It includes the sudden death of cricketer Phillip Hughes in the piece entitled ‘63 Not Out’. His accidental demise is one of the nation’s most shocking publicly televised deaths and resulted in an outpouring of grief and a tribute in which Aussies left their cricket bats leaning against their front porch to pay their respects.
About the author
Robin Bowles is the author of a number of bestselling true crime books, including the definitive books on the Jaidyn Leskie murder, Justice Denied, and the disappearance and alleged murder of British tourist Peter Falconio, Dead Centre. She lives in Melbourne.