Trace (Rachael Brown, Scribe)
Journalist Rachael Brown’s ABC podcast Trace, which earned comparisons to the global sensation Serial, investigated the cold-case murder of Melbourne bookshop owner Maria James. The 38-year-old single mother was stabbed 68 times in her home at the back of her Thornbury bookshop in June 1980, but nobody has ever been charged with Maria’s murder. In a gruelling 16-month investigation, spurred by a crucial witness’ evidence that never saw the light of day, Brown reviewed preliminary suspects, uncovered one of her own, and exposed a forensic mistake—and possible conspiracies—that have stirred the coroner into contemplating a new inquest. The podcast was a hit, and this behind-the-scenes account of her investigation is a detailed, personal and sobering encapsulation of where the case, and those tied to it, currently stand. Trace is both forensic in its investigation and compassionate towards those forever connected to it. Every murder is a tragedy, of course, but one that remains unsolved after more than 30 years is a travesty, and Brown’s determination and resoluteness to uncover the truth—and expose the potential culpability of two of Victoria’s most powerful institutions—shines through. Her propulsive narrative and the many unsettling aspects of this still-open case make Trace a standout among true-crime titles.
Simon McDonald is the senior bookseller at Potts Point Bookshop