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Authors: Robert Sims

Tags: #Serial Murder Investigation, #Australia, #Australian Fiction, #Detective and Mystery Stories; Australian, #Melbourne (Vic.)

Tropic of Death

BOOK: Tropic of Death
8.18Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
Tropic of Death
Robert Sims
Australian Fiction, Australia, Serial Murder Investigation, Detective and Mystery Stories; Australian, Melbourne (Vic.)

### Product Description

When a little girl finds a severed head buried in sand on a beach in Whitley, the locals are sent into a tailspin. Little do they know it''s only the first of series of grisly murders that will sully their normally idyllic resort town.After the body of local greens activist Rachel Macarthur is discovered minus her head and hands, the local police call on Melbourne profiler, Detective Rita Van Hassel, to help track down the killer.What Rita finds on arriving in Whitley are not the tranquil tropical waters and magical hinterland rainforest of the tourist ads for northern Queensland, but a seething hotbed of intrigue and malignant passion, where nothing is as it seems and no one can be trusted.As the murders continue, the pressure on Rita reaches boiling point, and she must muster all her profiling knowledge and ingenuity to help catch the killer before he strikes again.

### About the Author

Robert Sims grew up in Melbourne, going straight from high school to journalism and working in an array of newspaper and radio jobs. He took a career break from journalism to complete a degree in Politics + Philosophy, then spent more than 20 years in London working for Independent Radio News and ITN. Robert and his wife and young sons now live in Melbourne.

Robert Sims grew up in Melbourne, going straight from high school to journalism and working in an array of newspaper and radio jobs. He took a career break from journalism to complete a degree in politics and philosophy, then spent more than twenty years in London working for Independent Radio News, ITN and the BBC. Robert and his wife and young sons now live in Melbourne.

Tropic of Death
is Robert’s second novel; his first,
Shadow Maker
, was published in 2007.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

First published in 2009

Copyright (c) Robert Sims 2009

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publisher.

The Australian
Copyright Act 1968
(the Act) allows a maximum of one chapter or 10 per cent of this book, whichever is the greater, to be photocopied by any educational institution for its educational purposes provided that the educational institution (or body that administers it) has given a remuneration notice to Copyright Agency Limited (CAL) under the Act.

Arena Books, an imprint of

Allen & Unwin

83 Alexander Street

Crows Nest NSW 2065


Phone: (61 2) 8425 0100


(61 2) 9906 2218

mail: [email protected]


Cataloguing-in-Publication details are available from the National Library of Australia

ISBN 978 1 74175 671 5

Set in 12/15 pt Adobe Garamond Pro by Bookhouse, Sydney Printed and bound in Australia by Griffin Press 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

16/2/09 10:02:52 AM

‘And this also … has been one of the dark places of the earth.’

Joseph Conrad

The little girl stood back and admired her sandcastle. It sat there, a shapeless blob, on the wide wet flank of the estuary. Seagulls were wheeling and cawing overhead. A breeze ruffled the waves in the distance. The sludge from drains traced the rim of a sandbank a few yards away from her. Over on the far shore, the concrete bulk of grain silos loomed against the sky and dirty-looking smoke drifted from factory chimneys.

The day had an unsettled mood, something shrill in the air and, among the parrots fighting over fast-food scraps, a hint of tainted innocence. But the child didn’t sense it, not even in the distant boom of artillery rumbling over the mudflats from the testing range beyond. She’d made her mark and her soul was content. She bent down and topped her castle with a flag made from a piece of tissue. It fluttered in defiance of the tide that would sweep her small work of art into oblivion.

Her mother sat on a promenade seat. She smoked and stared with empty eyes into the middle distance where a tourist launch headed out towards the Great Barrier Reef. Its wake rippled among the mangrove thickets of a nearby inlet. The girl waved but the mother didn’t notice, so she drifted off to look for shells. She passed a bait digger who stooped beside his pail, slopping mud with his spade. He watched her darkly. She said hello, but he just nodded in response. She wandered over to a clump of seaweed and squatted and tugged at a slimy strand. It dislodged something strange in the mud. She gazed in fascination. Then she went back to the bait digger. He paused and looked at her with irritation, and she smiled at him.

‘There’s a man in the mud,’ she said.

He didn’t say anything, just stared at her through cold eyes.

‘There is,’ she insisted. ‘A man in the mud. Come and see.’

He leant on his spade and watched her plod back to the seaweed and point at something.

‘Come and see.’

He sighed and jabbed in his spade so it stood upright, and then he squelched across to her. She was pointing triumphantly.

‘See! I told you!’

At first he just saw a muddy lump and a crab scuttling away.

Then he saw the shape of the severed head. The skin was death-white. Parts of the face had been eaten away. The little girl was still pointing excitedly as the bait digger began to vomit. She looked at him with disappointment.

‘Still with us, Van Hassel?’

The greeting, from DSS Wayne Strickland, was meant to be ironic. It drew an indulgent smile from Detective Sergeant Marita Van Hassel as she brushed past him into the squad room.

‘Till I get my ticket of leave,’ she replied.

‘Ticket to ride is more like it,’ said Strickland. ‘And an easy ride at that.’

‘Does that mean you want to keep me in the squad?’

‘Huh.’ Strickland smoothed back his thinning hair. ‘Do I look like I’m in your fan club?’

The banter contained the usual mock hostility but Rita knew it reflected something deeper. It wasn’t so much dislike as a clash of styles. While Strickland was her immediate boss, he was also her opposite in a number of ways. Like many of her male colleagues he was old school - uncompromising, pragmatic and committed to traditional methods of policing. An astute detective, he was also hard-faced and middle-aged, a man suspicious of innovations such as behavioural analysis and psychological profiles. Rita specialised in these areas after doing the necessary fieldwork and academic study. In Strickland’s eyes that made her an intellectual, as well as a perfect example of the feminising trend within the Victoria Police. When she’d been selected to become a profiler he’d called her overindulged and over-promoted - a fair-haired favourite of reformers who were bent on re-marketing the force.

The barb had been prompted by her photo in
Police Life
magazine. Rita liked the shot. It captured something of how she saw herself - a woman with an independent mind, a trim figure and the ability to succeed. There she stood between the pillars of Melbourne’s police headquarters, arms folded, head turned sideways to the camera, staring directly into the lens. The pose, in a white linen blazer and trousers, was almost symbolic. With her gaze of concentration and short blonde hair blown back, it showed off her best features - the blue of her eyes, the curve of her cheekbones, the serious expression of her mouth. Her friends told her it was the portrait of an alpha female, but Strickland dismissed it as image manipulation. He said it made her look like a warrior in a pantsuit - part detective, part Visigothic princess.

The comment had made her laugh. There was an element of truth in it, not least because of her northern European ancestry.

That had been the low point in their working relationship.

Since then he’d mellowed. He also conceded she got results.

That’s because she was diligent and assertive, much like Strickland himself. But unlike him, her ambitions were far from realised. At thirty years old, she was convinced her finest achievements lay ahead of her.

‘One thing I’ll admit,’ said Strickland. ‘Things won’t be the same without you.’ He laid on a gritty smile. ‘I’ve actually got used to you being a pain in the arse.’

Despite her breezy manner, Rita was losing patience with the delay over her future role. In the past month she’d officially completed her profiling course, processed a backlog of case files and generally cleared the decks ahead of her next appointment. But the senior commanders at police headquarters were yet to decide where to assign her. They were having trouble finding an appropriate slot for a fully qualified criminal profiler, something of a rare and exotic breed among rank and file officers. Until they made up their minds she remained in limbo, a semi-detached member of the Sexual Crimes Squad, feeling professionally unsatisfied and at a loose end.

With a sigh of frustration she sat down at her desk, dumped her bag next to the keyboard and logged on. The inbox had collected a dozen new emails, mostly routine messages and junk mail, but one item stood out. Titled
Man in the Mud
, it had two attachments.

Rita clicked on the email and read the covering note:
look at the attachments then phone me.

It had been sent by an officer she didn’t know, a DS Steve Jarrett based at Whitley police station in Queensland. Already intrigued, Rita opened the first attachment. It contained a copy of a clipping from the local newspaper, the
Whitley Times
: who is the murdered ‘man in the mud’?

By Nikki Dwyer

A week after the discovery of a severed head on the northern end of Whitley Beach, police admit they are no nearer to identifying the victim.

A DNA check and searches of dental records have failed to produce any results.

Officers have also been circulating a computerised image, reconstructing the decomposed face, but so far no one has come forward to put a name to it. The victim is described as a male Caucasian in his 20s or 30s, with shoulder-length black hair.

The investigation was launched after the gruesome find by four-year-old Jennifer Griffiths, who dislodged the head while playing on the mudflats of the estuary. She impressed local police and journalists with her composure, describing the grisly object as simply ‘the man in the mud’.

A post-mortem examination showed the unknown homicide victim had been shot through the top of the skull.

Since the initial discovery, more pieces of the dismembered body have floated ashore. Last Friday a handless forearm washed up south of the town and two days ago another macabre find was made by a man walking his pet labrador near the dunes.

To the owner’s horror, the dog retrieved a boot containing a foot.

The officer in charge of the investigation, Detective Sergeant Steve Jarrett, said yesterday it seemed obvious that the body was dumped at sea by someone who failed to take account of local currents.

‘It’s a case of waiting to see what else the tide brings in,’

he said.

When she’d finished reading the article Rita opened the second attachment, a computer-generated image of the victim. The face meant nothing to her. While the crime presented an interesting challenge, she couldn’t see what it had to do with her. Nevertheless, she phoned the number provided and asked for DS Jarrett.

‘Is that Van Hassel?’ drawled a male voice.

‘It is,’ she answered. ‘Are you Jarrett?’

‘Yeah,’ he said. ‘G’day.’

‘G’day to you too, Jarrett. You get this morning’s prize for the most ghoulish email. Any more body parts float your way?’

‘No more human joints of meat,’ he said. ‘Though I did get a false alarm about a torso under the pier. It turned out to be a side of pork wearing a Kakadu T-shirt.’

Rita laughed. ‘Sounds like the deep north has its own brand of humour. Okay, so I’ve caught up with the local news about your corpseless head, but what’s it got to do with me?’

‘That’s what I was hoping you could tell me.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘I was wondering what connections you have up here.’

‘Around Whitley?’ asked Rita, puzzled. ‘None that I know of.

What makes you think I have?’

‘A boot containing your name and a size-eight foot lopped off at the ankle.’

‘I hope this isn’t a piss-take.’

‘I know it sounds weird,’ admitted Jarrett with a dry chuckle,

‘but I’m just trying to make sense of it. That’s why I sent the newspaper article with the background before I spoke to you.’

BOOK: Tropic of Death
8.18Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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