Reviewed by Norrie Sanders
The subject of The Fatalist is currently incarcerated in the Goulburn Correctional Centre. His heinous crimes make for harrowing reading, yet the story of his life provides a thought provoking counterpoint.
This book joins a band of biographies of Australian murderers currently doing time – including Ivan Milat, Arthur “Neddy Smith” and Martin Bryant. The fact that they are still alive and able to read the book adds an edge: the stories are by no means over.
The Fatalist is unusual in that Campbell McConachie met his subject during amicable encounters in the Burwood Hotel; and had no idea that he was part way through a series of killings. Murders that would not be solved for another decade. The book – Campbell’s first – is a retelling of his quest to understand the factors that led to such tragedy for the victims.
A more or less chronological account of Lindsey Rose’s life is interspersed with summaries of interviews with the prisoner and dabbling into criminal psychology. More of that later.
Even as a toddler, tumult for Rose is just around every corner:
“Maxie jumped up on the couch behind him. ‘Want your mummy?’ he said. “Okay.” He lifted Lindsey’s thighs up higher than his hips so that he slid head-first out the window with its six foot drop. Lindsey felt a lurch in his gut as the concrete rushed up, taken his field of vision, and into his face and into nothingness”.
The structure of the book means that, although we know the ending from the outset, we live with Rose for 30 years before the first murder. In that time, he stands up to bullies, becomes a successful private investigator and, as a paramedic, attends to victims of the Granville Train disaster. He witnesses, and in some cases participates in, more violence than most of us will ever see. Empathy for his situation is easy to feel and is matched by the author’s own sense of suspended disbelief – perhaps he will turn out to be a good guy after all?
A difficulty acknowledged by an author’s note is that no “friend or relative of the people murdered” was interviewed. Nor was he able to approach some of Rose’s associates. Most of the content is unverified verbal accounts by a criminal, who has deliberately withheld some information. The author questions his subject as to whether he may be painting himself “in the best possible light”. Rose believes that as a result of his job as an investigator he can be objective “What I tell you, you can believe it”.
To his credit, Campbell is careful not to attest to the veracity of Rose’s testimony. Even if Rose believes these statements, some of the events were confused and traumatic and took place decades previously. Memory is pliable and notoriously unreliable.
Late in the book, Campbell infers some frustration: “I have sometimes sent short chapters to review. In the early days he was complimentary and provided detailed corrections. Now he is more inclined to just tell me it’s wrong: ‘You might as well be writing fiction.’” Rose even toys with the author by fabricating some of his private investigations.
Rose admits to protecting sources and/or other criminals. He refuses to testify against his accomplices, even for crimes to which he confesses and for which the police have strong evidence for their involvement. He also strongly hints that there are many other crimes. The admissions and confessions appear to be to crimes where police have sound evidence or incontrovertible witnesses. So the truth is circumscribed.
Mark Brandon Read (“Chopper”) showed that a criminal can be skilled in creating a persona and a life story that is frugal with the truth. Plenty of non-criminals are similarly skilled.
So a one-sided portrayal of Lindsey Rose has to be filtered carefully. It becomes possible to feel for him in his troubled childhood, even to barrack for him in his many fist fights. The reader can be lulled into thinking that he really is a good bloke who only killed for revenge.
Sometimes an alternative story appears. When asked about one of the murders in which an innocent woman dies horribly in a botched robbery: “And how did that affect you when you heard that she had died?” Rose replies:” I was surprised because I didn’t think her injuries were to the extent that she would’ve died from them. I honestly didn’t.” Surprise stops well short of remorse.
Despite these misgivings about truth, the reader is lulled into suspending scepticism and allowing this fascinating, violent and gruesome story to unfold. Ultimately, the narrative is riveting because Rose himself is an extraordinary person. Pictures of him under arrest show a rather overweight, unremarkable man in glasses – the antithesis of a violent serial killer. He is extremely resourceful, intelligent, manually skilled and capable of working in many different jobs, apparently successfully. He had many friends and the sort of guy that looks out for the downtrodden when he sees injustice. But his life is filled with toxic and failed relationships, aggression and crime.
The author’s brief forays into Rose’s psychology and motivation are at once a distraction and a strength. The author is commendably self-deprecating about his qualifications to analyse, but there is a distinct feeling of amateurism here. It reflects Campbell’s journey as he strives to make sense of this complex man and as someone who has interviewed Rose so often, it is important for him to voice his opinions. By introducing the “analysis” in small increments throughout the book avoids tedium and is an opportunity for the reader to pause and reflect on the galloping narrative.
From Campbell’s account, it is easy to see why people were drawn to Rose. Some of his friends and family were forced to reassess when the extent of the crimes and the long term deception was revealed at trial. His daughter was shocked. In interviews, she has expressed concern for the victims: “My father’s actions have created horrific trauma, loss and grief to their families and that will be intergenerational trauma for those families”.
By the end of the book we may not understand how Rose is capable of murder without regret, but we do know many of the factors which came to shape his attitudes to life, violence and morality. Of course, the unanswerable question remains – was he destined to turn out like this or could another upbringing have resulted in an honest, law abiding and successful man?
By Campbell McConachie