#Book Bingo 2018 is a collaboration challenge I am completing with my favourite blogger, Theresa Smith Writes. How does it work? We have devised our own personalised book bingo card game. Twice a month, on the first and third Saturday of the month, Theresa and I will complete a book review post, outlining our respective bingo card entries. The book bingo card contains a total of 25 squares, which we will complete over the course of the year. To accommodate all the squares, we will be posting additional entries in the months of March and June, this will ensure that we stay on track to complete the book bingo game by December. To keep things interesting for ourselves and those following along with us, the choice of bingo square to be covered will be entirely down to us. We invite you to join us in this fun book related challenge, by linking your bingo card entries in the comments section of this post or by visiting Theresa Smith Writes.
True history that is both shocking and too real, this unforgettable tale moves at the pace of a great crime novel.
In the early hours of Saturday morning, 17 November 1923, a suitcase was found washed up on the shore of a small beach in the Sydney suburb of Mosman. What it contained – and why – would prove to be explosive.
The murdered baby in the suitcase was one of many dead infants who were turning up in the harbour, on trains and elsewhere. These innocent victims were a devastating symptom of the clash between public morality, private passion and unrelenting poverty in a fast-growing metropolis.
Police tracked down Sarah Boyd, the mother of the suitcase baby, and the complex story and subsequent murder trial of Sarah and her friend Jean Olliver became a media sensation. Sociologist Tanya Bretherton masterfully tells the engrossing and moving story of the crime that put Sarah and her baby at the centre of a social tragedy that still resonates through the decades.
The Suitcase Baby is a classic example of compelling true crime, from an Australian and historical point of view. This is one chill to the bone case, that sees author Tanya Bretherton illuminate crimes involving the intended deaths of newborns and infants in the 1920’s.
The sad story of The Suitcase Baby begins in the November of the year 1923, when a group of children on a picnic witness something horrifying. A suitcase is found washed up on the shores of a small stretch of coastline in Sydney, near Mosman. When it is opened up, the contents prove to be quite shocking and the fallout is hard hitting. The case of a murdered baby in a suitcase is unfortunately only one of a litany of other cases that defined the age in which it was discovered. These poor unsuspecting infants, who were not given a chance at life, were sadly discarded in all areas of Sydney, from parks to drains and the harbour. On closer inspection, it becomes clear that the stories behind the babies being abandoned has much to say about the moral codes of Australian society at this time. It also highlights the social conditions of those forced to make the decision to end their child’s life in this manner. In the particular case of the woman charged with the suitcase baby case, Sarah Boyd, Tanya Bretherton exposes a story and a murder trial marked with many grey areas. The involvement of a second woman in this case, a Jean Olliver, complicates matters of this case further. At the time, this case was covered heavily by the media, who sensationalised much of the story. The crux of the tale has much to say about the grounds on which Sarah Boyd and her accomplice felt there was no other option but to pack Sarah’s baby in a suitcase and send it off to its death. This is a tragic tale that echoes the events that defined 1920’s society.
I was looking for a non-fiction tale to cover book bingo 2018 and I’ve seen plenty of buzz around The Suitcase Baby by Tanya Bretherton around the social media sphere. This book has also been shortlisted for the 2018 Ned Kelly Award for best true crime novel and I can see why it has been attracting plenty of positive attention. I find it problematic to say that I enjoyed this novel, but I definitely appreciated the way it was written and the information that was brought to light. Most of all, I liked the way in which Tanya Bretherton transported me to the streets of Sydney and the provided a solid sketch of life for the working class, especially drawing our attention to the conditions of women living in the 1920’s.
The Suitcase Baby is divided into twenty one chapters, along with an acknowledgments and end notes section which I do recommend perusing after finishing the book. The book opens outlining the grim discovery of the ‘suitcase baby’ and it is an eye-opening kick-start of events. The Suitcase Baby provides a detailed overview of the social and moral conditions of 1920’s Sydney. Infanticide is examined in great detail, along with the conditions for women living in Sydney at this time. A comprehensive look at the suitcase baby case is relayed, including information on the police work, trial, verdict, incarceration and the media attention attached to this case. What stood out most for me was not the case itself, but they way in which Bretherton exposes the murky underworld of Sydney’s streets and the conditions that proved ripe for the suitcase baby to occur. It really is a sad and sorry state of affairs.
This is an exceptionally well researched book and I found myself engrossed, even though I was surprised by how straightforward and quick it was to solve the suitcase baby case. The subject matter is grim, so a trigger warning must be issued, but I feel it is important that we are made of aware of the events that occurred in our not too distant past. The tone Bretherton takes to presenting all the information pertaining to the suitcase baby case is empathetic and accessible. Plenty of facts are relayed, but the book is not bogged down by over information. Rather, it provides a strong picture of all facets that contributed to this case and many others. I found myself overawed by the economic, social, moral, health, gender and immigrant issues linked to this story. It even puts the spotlight on the ‘flapper phenomenon’ which all seemed to play a part in this social tragedy.
Equal parts illuminating and frustratingly sad, The Suitcase Baby is a book that unearths a torrid state of affairs from our nation’s past. The Suitcase Baby raises of plenty of questions and will incite plenty of thought about the conditions for women, the working class and immigrants that came to our shores in search of a better life in the ‘lucky country’. This is a fascinating case and I firmly believe Tanya Bretherton has done a remarkable job in bringing this true crime tale to the surface of our collective minds.
The Suitcase Baby by Tanya Bretherton was published on January 30th 2018 by Hachette Australia. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
To learn more about the author of The Suitcase Baby, Tanya Bretherton, visit here.
The Suitcase Baby, is book #110 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge