Book talk: Interesting history books


Jeff Popple reviews three interesting history books about serial killers, spies and East Timor. More of Jeff’s reviews can be found on his blog:

The Killing Streets by Tanya Bretherton

Hachette, $32.99

Serial killers are often thought to be a relatively recent phenomenon, but Tanya Bretherton makes a strong case that a serial killer was at work in Sydney in the 1930s and ‘40s, preying on young women and killing them in public places. Eric Craig was arrested for some of the killings on scant evidence and, after drawn-out legal proceedings, was sent to prison. However, the killings did not stop, and he was eventually released. In her fascinating account, Bretherton casts fresh light on Craig and these forgotten murders and provides an interesting insight into the period. A lucid and engaging read.

Agent Moliere by Geoff Andrews

I.B Tauris, $40

The Cambridge spy ring of Burgess, Maclean, Philby and Blunt have long fascinated spy experts, novelists and the general public, and much has been written about them. The so-called ‘fifth man’, John Cairncross, is less well known and has largely escaped the scrutiny of the other four. In Agent Moliere, respected historian Geoff Andrews provides a well-researched and absorbing account of Cairncross’s life from his passing on of secret documents to the Russians during World War II to his later life as a university professor in Italy and his eventual unveiling as the ‘fifth man’. A must for all armchair spies.

Picture a Dry Riverbed… by Geoff Hazel, local author

Sid Harta, $29.95

In 1999, AFP officer Geoff Hazel went to East Timor as part of an international, unarmed police contingent to organise and conduct the vote, known as the Popular Consultation, on whether East Timor should remain as part of Indonesia or become independent. It was a demanding task and, as Canberran Hazel makes clear, it was also a dangerous undertaking. Despite the threats and the physical demands, Hazel and his team pushed through and paved the way for independence in East Timor. This is a fascinating and well-presented account of an under-reported episode in Australia’s involvement in the region and a fitting tribute to Hazel’s team.

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