Seven shots ring out in the silence of Victoria’s rolling Barrabool Hills. As the final recoil echoes through the paddocks, a revered sheep-breeding dynasty comes to a bloody and inglorious end. Darcy Wettenhall, his 23-year-old son Guy and his 81-year-old cousin Janet were dead. No one could have anticipated the orgy of violence that wiped out three generations of the Wettenhall family, much less the lurid scandals about Darcy Wettenhall, the man behind the world famous Stanbury sheep stud, that would emerge from the aftermath.
Almost 30-years later, Bob Perry, Darcy Wettenhall’s secret lover for a decade prior to his murder, tells his story to author Neal Drinnan, who does an excellent job unravelling the web of secrets and lies that led to this bizarre and seemingly motiveless murder spree. And with Wettenhall’s story, Bob Perry’s telling of it, and Drinnan’s own reflections, he shines a light on being a gay man in rural Australia. This excellent book is as much a contemporary warning as a historical true crime tale.
Darcy Wettenhall is a fascinating character. A sad childhood included time in and out of care where he was most likely abused. As a man he struggled with his sexuality, hiding it, and marrying and having a son. From the bucolic majesty, privilege and snobbery of the Western District’s prized pastoral lands and dynasties to the bleak, loveless underworld of orphanages, rodeo stables and homeless shelters, The Devil’s Grip is a courageous and thought-provoking meditation on the fragility of reputation, the folly of deception and the power of shame. Darcy’s struggles took place decades ago, with the murders occurring in 1992. And yet the themes in this book are current and incredibly important.
There are so many layers to this book. From farming and sheep studs to the murder mystery, to the voice of both Bob Perry and author Neal Drinnan, The Devil’s Grip is a remarkable and somewhat unusual read, crossing genres, compelling you to turn the pages to the very end. Exceptionally written, it propels you into this tale and whisks you forward with polished prose and a gripping story. Not normally the type of book I’d read, I’m so glad I did and will be recommending this to friends.
The Devil’s grip is an expression to describe a genetic defect in sheep. This flaw in the sheep’s spine can effectively ruin a prizewinning breeding line forever. It’s an excellent metaphor. For all Darcy Wettenhall’s flaw’s, being gay wasn’t one – and yet it was the one he feared would destroy his line. And with his brutal murder, at the hands of a troubled lover, it did.
The Devil’s Grip is a tragic, remarkable and absolutely mesmerising Australian tale. Highly recommended.
About the author:
Neal Drinnan was born in Melbourne. He has worked in publishing and journalism for many years. He is the author of six novels, Glove Puppet, Pussy’s Bow,Quill, the Lambda award-winning Izzy and Eve, Rare Bird of Truth and Rural Liberties, as well as a travel guide, The Rough Guide to Gay and Lesbian Australia. The Devil’s Grip is his first work of narrative non fiction. He owns an independent bookshop called Cow Lick in Colac, Victoria.