An odd woman-girl teacher with a certain fascination with the truth, or at least trying to understand it. Or is she? Is she just self-indulgent?
The idea of sandwiching the main plot, which is layered enough, with a childbook version of the main events.
The idea that your lover’s wife has “written her own textbook on how to kill one’s rival.” And you might be the target.
As one reviewer noted, “A Child’s Book of True Crime” is a Russian doll of a book—gifts wrapped in gifts.
Kate Byrne is a trip. In fact, she’s her own trip. This elementary school teacher thinks hard about the stages of child development and has a distinct view of the world. But she doesn’t know if she’s a little girl or a young woman. She’s having an affair with the father of one of her star pupils, a young boy with plenty of brainpower. Kate is awkward and unsure at times, then powerfully insightful. She’s uncomfortable to be around, at times, but you have to see what’s going to spray out of her fountain of thoughts next.
Her lover’s wife is Veronica, who it just so happens has written a non-fiction book about a sensational and unsolved murder. The setting is Tasmania, so there is lots of prison and outcast stuff in the background (and occasionally in the foreground).
The third layer of this sandwich is the child’s version of this story (these sections are brief) as Kate attempts to tell the story in a way that’s suitable for children, with animals and in a sort of harmless (more childlike, anyway) fashion. Think animal detectives.
Throughout is a theme of how men and women of all ages dabble in behaviors that are older or younger than their current age. A grown man talks cutesy-pie (at a very odd moment). Young girls play act marriage. Boys are playing pretend games with man-made weapons. Nothing, as a result, is quite what it seems.
In construction alone, the book is fascinating. There are moments of great tension (the car repair scene) quickly injected with humor. The writing is sharp and distinct.
Here’s Byrne contemplating Veronica:
“Veronica had two modes. She cultivated all that languid ennui to hide pure cunning. I had seen her overwhelmed by murderous thoughts: Veronica with bright, bright eyes, all caffeinated like a jerky little bird. She had despised me from the moment we’d met. I’d been ridiculously naïve. On that excursion, just as I had been studying her, she had been studying me; her every compliment, her every kindness, dosed to some precise formula.”
In fact, it seems everyone in “A Child’s Book of True Crime” has two modes, or multiple modes. Everybody is capable of everything. You can’t take anything too seriously. Nothing here is neatly resolved. The result is no less satisfying.