Journalist Martin McKenzie-Murray takes a closer look at one of Perth’s most vicious murders in his debut book, A Murder Without Motive: The Killing of Rebecca Ryle.
The Ryle family’s decision to move from Lancashire, England to Mindarie, in Perth, Western Australia wasn’t an easy one, particularly with children. Despite relocating to a town populated with other immigrants from their homeland, the move was difficult, especially so for the Ryle’s eldest daughter, 19 year old Rebecca.
Though she was doing well at school and seemed to be making friends, moving thousands of kilometres across the world was difficult for Rebecca, who was plagued by homesickness. But things were slowly improving. Everything would be alright in the end, thought Rebecca’s parents, Fran and Marie. It just takes time to adjust.
As it would turn out, time was not something Rebecca had much of. In 2004, she took a walk to the local pub only to be strangled to death on her way home by a virtual stranger. Although the murderer, James Duggan, was caught and charged within a relatively short time, the impact their daughter’s death would have on her family and their community was a stain upon their time in Australia, and would haunt them to their dying day.
A Murder Without Motive falls within the true crime genre and although it does speculate upon the night of Rebecca’s inexplicable death and discuss Duggan’s subsequent arrest and trial to a point, if you’re looking for the nitty-gritty details in which many Australians find themselves enraptured, you have perhaps chosen the wrong book.
Rather than trying to examine what cannot possibly be known to anyone other than Rebecca and Duggan (though the author does touch on this briefly), the book engages the family of the victim and their community addressing questions such as: How does one cope with the death of a child? What impact did Rebecca’s death have on those she left behind? What happens after the person responsible for your child’s murder is caught and behind bars? These are questions that, in the hype of such a tragic event and the media coverage that comes afterwards, are often forgotten by those not directly related to the case, or the family involved.
McKenzie-Murray’s reputation as a journalist and political speech writer precedes him, having spent many years working in Canberra and writing for national media outlets including The Age, The Saturday Paper and The Monthly. But what was it about this particular case that inspired him to write a book? By his own admission, that answer is perhaps is not strictly cut and dry. In part it because of his brother’s acquaintance with Duggan, having grown up in the area, his own curiosity about the case and gaining an insight into justice.
In writing the book, McKenzie-Murray states that he was aware of the somewhat dangerous ground upon which he was treading and was ever mindful of Rebecca’s family’s grief – even after years had passed. In this he is respectful of his subject, almost tender when he needs to be and at the same time painfully truthful, particularly when he and Fran discuss the murderous feelings he harboured towards his daughter’s murderer.
It is difficult to say that I enjoyed reading this book – most of all because of the subject matter. A Murder Without Motive: The Killing of Rebecca Ryle is an interesting book, offering readers the chance to not only remember Rebecca Ryle and her family, but look further than the evidence presented by media and the police.
In short, it attempts to give perspective to something which might be ignored after the spectacle has died down, and examine how the wheels of justice turn for those who have no control over the law.
A Murder Without Motive: The Killing of Rebecca Ryle is published by Scribe Publications, both in e-book and paperback formats.
[Editor/Author Note: This review was written for The Australia Times’ Books Magazine. To view it in its original capacity, click here. While visiting my blog, don’t forget to read my interview with Martin McKenzie-Murray.]