By Kate McCaffrey
Publisher/Year: Echo 2023
Truth is like a lens we apply to everything we see. It is malleable and transformative. We can bend it, mould it shape it, vanish it. Our minds allow us to foreground parts of it and background other. We do this to present the versions of ourselves we want the world to see, and hide the versions we can’t bear to reveal.
When Western Australian radio journalist Amy Rhinehart decides to use a crime podcast to explore a gruesome murder, she’s seeking ratings, awards and career glory. Her idea: to use the listeners of her radio show as its co-creators, with live-time calls and digital suggestion boards. The case: Jonah Scott, charged and imprisoned for life for the murder of his girlfriend, Casey Williams. Although Jonah went to great lengths to hide the body, when arrested he confessed immediately and pleaded guilty. Is the case really as open-and-shut as it would seem? Or is something more sinister afoot.
Amy’s investigation plunges her into a world of drugs, sex, gender identity and religious cults … and in her search for the truth, she finds she also has to answer questions within herself.
Reviewer: Lesley Vick
This compelling story taps into contemporary phenomena such as real crime podcasts and broadcasters – especially radio – sourcing content from listeners calling in and making suggestions. Double Lives also deals with current contentious issues like transphobia and homophobia as well as the malign influence of religious cults. Truth, gender and identity are all examined. Two related stories are being told – the relationship between Jonah and Casey and Amy’s investigations of the religious cult run by Jonah’s family, and the family’s possible involvement in Casey’s murder. As with real life true crime podcasts, the involvement of listeners raises ethical questions about justice, media bias and the possibility that criminal investigations may be compromised. Double Lives is a sad story about discrimination and lack of tolerance.
The author deals with these issues sensitively and as Amy delves further into the case, she comes to realise that things are more complex than she had previously thought. Despite Jonah’s guilty plea, even establishing the facts turns out to be difficult. Did Jonah know the truth about Casey or was it a sudden shock discovery? Had Casey deliberately deceived him and is that relevant to his conviction? To what extent were members of his family cult involved in the murder, if at all? What part did shame and guilt arising from the cult’s rigid beliefs play and was Jonah also a victim? Why did Jonah hide the body then plead guiltyor avail himself of a legal defence that could have reduced his sentence? All these queries raise doubts about Jonah’s guilt in Amy’s mind and in the minds of her listeners. As the investigation proceeds. we learn details about the backstories of Jonah and Casey as well as Amy herself. These revelations shed light on the circumstances of the crime and Amy’s approach to the investigation.
The story is told by shifting between podcast transcripts and narration which works well. The exploration of the controversial issues involved will make readers think about their own attitudes to those issues, and some readers may find the story’s ending challenging.