2016 Reviews · Australian · Goodreads giveaway · true crime

Book Review: Into the Darkness : the mysterious death of Phoebe Handsjuk by Robin Bowles


Book blurb:

On 2 December 2010, the body of a 24-year-old woman was found at the bottom of the rubbish chute in the luxury Balencea tower apartments in St Kilda Road, Melbourne, twelve floors below the apartment she had shared with her boyfriend, Antony Hampel.

Within minutes, the sound of sirens filled the hall as police cars from the nearby police station filled the front forecourt in response to the day manager‘s call. So began the so-called investigation into the sudden death of a young woman called Phoebe Handsjuk.

From then, the case became weirder and weirder. Phoebe, it turned out, was a beautiful but damaged young woman who’d been in a fraught relationship with a well-connected and wealthy lover almost twice her age, who was related to the elite of Melbourne‘s judiciary. The police botched their investigation, so Phoebe‘s grandfather, a former detective, decided to run one of his own. And in December 2014, after a 14-day inquest, the Coroner delivered a finding that excluded both suicide and foul play, a ruling that shocked her family and many others who had been following the case.

How did Phoebe Handsjuk fall to her death? In ‘Into the Darkness’, Robin Bowles uses her formidable array of investigative and forensic skills to tell a tale that is stranger than fiction.

My review:

I won a copy of true crime writer Robin Bowles latest book, Into the Darkness: the mysterious death of Phoebe Handsjuk via a Goodreads giveaway.  This is a book that contains a crime mystery that has fascinated me since word first got out through Australia’s media coverage of the case, some six years ago now. More recently, my interest in the case was piqued when I watched a Sixty Minutes television report on Phoebe Handsjuk’s case.

For those who are not aware of this peculiar crime mystery, it centres on the death of a twenty four year old woman named Phoebe Handsjuk. Phoebe was a talented young woman with her whole life ahead of her. Phoebe’s life was sadly cut short, when she was found in the rubbish chute in luxury apartment block she resided in with her boyfriend in Melbourne. After a short but bungled police investigation, Phoebe’s death is ruled as suicide. The Handsjuk family fight this ruling, believing there was much more to Phoebe’s death that the police miscounted. Robin Bowles opens up the resulting investigation. Bowles delivers an impartial account of the inquest and she also traces back to the original police investigation. Bowles also gives the reader an insight into Phoebe herself, the girl growing up and the troubled young woman she became before her death.

Robin Bowles is a skilled Australian true crime writer. A quick glance at her repertoire of novels she has under her belt, proves her precision at bringing fascinating true crimes to the attention of readers. The case of Phoebe Handsjuk is just as bizarre, as much as it is tragic. I thought Robin Bowles did a fine job of building a picture of Phoebe as a starting point, which I feel is an integral part of this novel. Bowles delves into Phoebe’s family relationships, childhood and her formative teenage years. She also examines Phoebe’s more recent experiences as a young woman struggling with depression.  Bowles then moves onto Phoebe’s relationship with Antony Hampel, the boyfriend who she shared an apartment with, which was the very same apartment where she was found dead. Understanding this relationship is quite crucial to the case, as this is where many inconsistencies in the police investigation lie. Bowles follows up her story with a detailed picture of the inquest, which really is an eye-opener as to how flawed, as well as unclear, this case has been right from the start. What I took away most from Bowles’ treatment of this sensitive case, was the need to inject more into mental illness. Phoebe life may possibly have been spared, had she received the care and attention she needed before her life was cut short.

Into the Darkness: the mysterious death of Phoebe Handsjuk offers an informed and comprehensive account of a tragic crime that captivated the nation. It is a must read if you are a fan of quality true crime stories.

Into the Darkness: the mysterious death of Phoebe Handsjuk by Robin Bowles was published by Scribe Publications on 3rd October 2016.


3 thoughts on “Book Review: Into the Darkness : the mysterious death of Phoebe Handsjuk by Robin Bowles

  1. Sounds like a shocking read, Amanda! I find those reads very depressing especially when it involves deceit and dishonesty and falsification by corrupt police. It just takes me so angry to know that we can’t trust the people we should be able to. I’m at this moment reading a true story about a woman that was framed, and the victim of a malicious conspiracy by her husband, some of his friends and a corrupt policeman. It’s very distressing and traumatic but I’ll continue reading as it’s a book club pick and this woman as been invited to speak at the next meeting. I feel incredibly fortunate that I’ll be there to hear her talk especially that it’ll be my first book club meeting ever. Her name is Roseanne Catt and the book title is Ten Years. I’ve only ever read one other true crime book and that was The Innocent Man by John Grisham – his first work of non-fiction. And that was harrowing to say the least.

    Lol, Amanda, my TBR pile might only be 20 but my TBR shelf is like yours, in the hundreds. I have a stack of about 20 on my coffee table that are must reads and once they’re whittled down to about 10 the next ten I want to read go on the bottom of that stack and so on. Yes, it is very hard to choose, it’s actually overwhelming particularly when you’ve promised authors that their book is next on your TBR pile.


  2. It certainly was a shocking read, I had to re-think when I read this book time wise. I do the bulk of my reading at night before bed and this one gave me nightmares as well as chills as I was reading it. Robin Bowles did an excellent job of opening up the investigation, exposing its bungles. She also gives Phoebe, the poor victim a voice, hopefully it will help those suffering from depression and substance abuse.

    It sound like you also have a tough but important read ahead of you. The case sounds interesting, it will be great to hear the author’s version of events via the talk. What a great first book club meeting. I do hope you enjoy connecting to some other readers. I look forward to your report on how it went. I will have to look out for the book Ten years by Roseanne Catt. I’m not much of a true crime reader but I am interested in Aussie true crimes. Over the last 2 years I have branched out genre wise, which has brought with it an exposure to different types of books such as true crime. I haven’t read The Innocent Man, it does sound harrowing! I’ve only read Gray Mountain (a fiction) by John Grisham and didn’t warm to it. I’ve have been told his earlier works a far better – one day!

    My TBR pile is getting out of control! I still can’t help but buy new books as they are released. I also did a Booktopia order last week as they had free shipping! I must have hundreds. I don’t know how you go about selecting the next book to read, it is so hard and overwhelming! I usually go with what I have to review (won/got sent) then with what ever my mood is as the time. I know the feeling, it is hard when you promise authors their book is next! xx


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