In June 1980, Ron Iddles, a bright-eyed, young detective, arrived at the crime scene of his first ever homicide case. He had spent the greater part of his childhood watching Homicide and Columbo, dreaming of the day he himself would be solving crimes and catching bad guys, sleuthing around like a professional, pork-pie hat and London Fog overcoat to match.
But nothing could prepare him for what he saw that day. A young woman splayed across the bedroom floor, multiple stab wounds to the neck, chest and back, hands tied with twine. Heavy pools of blood staining the carpet and bed quilt.
This was Ron’s first job – to find out who killed Maria James.
But he never did.
Fast-forward to 2017, and journalist Rachael Brown has heard word a few years back of a compelling witness who had seen a priest near the crime scene the day of Maria’s murder – covered in blood. She keeps waiting for the news to be made public, but word never gets out. So, with the blessing of Maria’s sons, and with the help of Ron Iddles (who never gave up on the case) she begins to investigate the murder – and the podcast Trace is born.
Rachael’s 2018 novel Trace provides an in-depth look into the investigative process behind the podcast, giving readers an insight into how evidence was retrieved, how persons of interest were located and interviewed, and how the mystery of Maria’s murder exposed further flaws and institutional corruption within the Australian Federal Police Force and the Catholic Church.
What stands out about the novel Trace is its immense empathy and compassion. Rachael Brown has a remarkable talent for both journalism and story-telling, treating the investigation with the utmost respect. Whilst this is a book that asks lots of hard-hitting questions – why was Maria murdered, who could have done this to her, what were their motives? – it is also a story that pays respect to families and friends who have suffered through the loss of a loved one. The book is as emotional as it is forensic, constantly reminding us that what we are reading is so much more than a story – it’s people’s loss, a painful, lived experience that they must suffer through every single day.
Trace is an important piece of writing that pays respect to a young woman, a loving mother, and a dear friend to many, who was wrongly and brutally murdered. It is a call for justice, asking important questions, calling for further investigative action from police, and holding institutions accountable for their mistakes and abuse. If you are passionate about True Crime that makes a difference and gives a voice to the forgotten and abused, then you absolutely must read Trace.
Rachael Brown has won numerous awards as an Australian broadcast journalist. She was the creator, investigator, and host of the Australian Broadcasting Company’s first true-crime podcast, Trace, which won three national awards. She lives in Melbourne.