2019 Reviews · biography · book bingo · non-fiction

#Book Bingo 2019 Round 17: ‘Written by an Australian Man’- A Scandal in Bohemia by Gideon Haigh

book bingo 2019 17 August

Book Bingo 2019 is a collaboration challenge I am completing with my favourite bloggers, Theresa Smith Writes and The Book Muse. Each Saturday, on a fortnightly basis, beginning on Saturday 5th January 2019, Ashleigh, Theresa and I will complete a book review post, outlining our respective bingo card entries. The Book Bingo 2019 card contains a total of 30 squares, which we will complete over the course of the year, with the aim to complete the whole card by the end of December. Two of the Book Bingo entries this year will be flexible, so that means it is completely down us as to when we post these entries, to ensure all 30 are ticked off by the end of the year. Do keep an eye out on our respective blog sites for our bonus round entries!  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, there is no crossover – that is planned anyway! However, as Ashleigh, Theresa and I enjoy similar books, especially books by Australian women writers, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if we end up with more than one book double up, as was the case in 2018! 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, tagging us on social media, or by visiting The Book Muse and Theresa Smith Writes.


An unsolved murder takes one of Australia’s foremost writers of non-fiction into the a scandal in bohemia small1930s Bohemian demi-monde, exploring the fate of a talented young woman trying to make her way in that artistic, sexualised, ‘liberated’ world.

As enigmatic in life as in death, Mollie Dean was a woman determined to transcend. Creatively ambitious and sexually precocious, at twenty-five she was a poet, aspiring novelist and muse on the peripheries of Melbourne’s bohemian salons – until one night in 1930 she was brutally slain by an unknown killer in a laneway while walking home.

Her family was implicated. Those in her circle, including her acclaimed artist lover Colin Colahan, were shamed. Her memory was anxiously suppressed. Yet the mystery of her death rendered more mysterious her life and Mollie’s story lingered, incorporated into memoir, literature, television, theatre and song, most notably in George Johnston’s classic My Brother Jack.

In A Scandal in Bohemia, Gideon Haigh explodes the true crime genre with a murder story about life as well as death. Armed with only a single photograph and echoes of Mollie’s voice, he has reassembled the precarious life of a talented woman without a room of her own – a true outsider, excluded by the very world that celebrated her in its art. In this work of restorative justice, Mollie Dean emerges as a tenacious, charismatic, independent woman for whom society had no place, and whom everybody tried to forget – but nobody could.

Review:

Gideon Haigh, a well respected journalist and prolific non fiction author chronicles the life and death of Mollie Dean, a woman viciously attacked at the age of just twenty five years old in a laneway in Melbourne. Not only is A Scandal in Bohemia a thorough true crime investigation, it is also a biography and a rich glimpse into Melbourne’s art world in the 1930s. Factual, informative and meticulously researched, Haigh places a fresh set of eyes on a notorious cold case from Australia’s past.

After reading The Portrait of Molly Dean by Katherine Koviac, I found I really enjoyed the fictionalised account of Molly Dean’s life and her murder. I was eager to find out more about this fascinating historical case and I was lucky to be able to turn to my copy of A Scandal in Bohemia by Gideon Haigh. Published in 2018, the same year as The Portrait of Molly Dean, this non fiction book aims to give an account of the life and times of Mollie Dean.

When I first opened A Scandal in Bohemia I was immediately struck by just how many books Gideon Haigh has to his name. These non fiction titles range from historical true crime, to sports and political stories. Haigh’s range is incredible to say the least, and I feel a little guilty in not coming across his work before. After reading The Portrait of Molly Dean I was hungry for more information on this famous case and tragic figure. This book delivered, but as the focus was on facts and an overview of sources, there were times where it was quite dry.

Where Haigh really finds his groove in A Scandal in Bohemia is the through examination into 1930s Melbourne. Haigh opens our eyes to the Bohemian circle, and name drops plenty of well known figures. It can be a little hard to keep on top of all these notable figures! I did feel like I got to know the world in which Mollie Dean drifted in and out of, as well as the people she interacted with. It also gave me a good picture of Mollie as the aspiring writer she longed to be.

There is plenty of speculation about this case, which Haigh depicts well in A Scandal in Bohemia. Haigh has trawled through so many different records and sources in an attempt to give the reader a solid overview of the case. What amazed me the most but also disappointed me was Mrs Dean, Mollie’s mother, who clearly was guilty about something!

Another area that I found illuminating was Mollie’s legacy in the world of literature. Mollie’s case is loosely depicted in the book and screen version of My Brother Jack. Haigh also directs our interest to other books that focus on the Bohemian art set in Melbourne, who were closely linked to Mollie.

Haigh’s approach to this book is very methodical. A Scandal in Bohemia is structured clearly with seventeen separate chapters, along with an introduction, epilogue, acknowledgements, bibliography and image montage, at the half way point of the book. Haigh devotes the first half of the book to setting the scene for the tragedy that is to occur. He outlines Mollie’s background, family history and life leading up to her murder. Once the murder is discussed at the half way point in the book, plenty of information is hurled at the reader to decipher, in terms of suspects and what actually happened that fateful night. What surprised me the most about Haigh’s investigation into Mollie’s murder was the horrific details of the attack and how Mollie was not killed by her attacker, but left for dead, before she later passed away once authorities arrived on the scene. It is a sad and sorry state of affairs. It also is a complete waste of a life for a young woman who represented aspiration, intelligence and fearlessness.

A tribute to a woman who was in her prime when her life was tragically cut short, A Scandal in Bohemia offers a direct insight into the art world in Melbourne, the key figures that influenced this creative set, and their impact on Mollie Dean. Haigh’s approach to this complex but fascinating historical true crime case is sufficient enough to draw in the watchful eyes of Australian history buffs, art connoisseurs and crime enthusiasts. I’m still perplexed by the case of Mollie Dean…

*** 3.5 stars

A Scandal in Bohemia by Gideon Haigh was published on 2nd April 2018 by Penguin Books Australia. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.

To learn more about the author of A Scandal in Bohemia, Gideon Haigh, visit here.

 

 

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4 thoughts on “#Book Bingo 2019 Round 17: ‘Written by an Australian Man’- A Scandal in Bohemia by Gideon Haigh

  1. For Round 17 I read a romance titled Play by Kylie Scott. I ticked off the bingo square ‘book written by an Australian man,’ a while ago. Always love that category.

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