Book Review: The Schoolgirl Strangler by Katherine Kovacic

“1930s Melbourne. In sunny suburban streets, a serial killer lies in wait…”

The Schoolgirl Strangler by Katherine Kovacic

November, 1930. One sunny Saturday afternoon, 12-year-old Mena Griffiths was playing in the park when she was lured away by an unknown man. Hours later, her strangled body was found, mouth gagged and hands crossed over her chest, in an abandoned house. Only months later, another girl was murdered; the similarities between the cases undeniable. Crime in Melbourne had taken a shocking new turn: this was the work of a serial killer, a homicidal maniac.

My Review

The Schoolgirl Strangler is a fascinating true crime account of Melbourne’s earliest recorded serial killer. In the 1930s, a sick and twisted killer terrorised the suburbs of Melbourne and country Victoria, luring young girls to their deaths and strangling them with their own underwear. The police were under pressure for years to solve this chilling murder spree, interviewing thousands of people. Even prosecuting the wrong man at one point.

Katherine Kovacic has methodically researched the hunt for the Schoolgirl Strangler, often under difficult circumstances during Covid restrictions, and she has done a brilliant job of weaving the facts into a story that had me turning the page like a thriller. I found it interesting that she uncovered The Schoolgirl Strangler while she was researching her novel The Portrait of Molly Dean. It seems likely that Molly’s killer was a copycat of the Strangler.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and Katherine Kovacic’s in-person talks that I’ve been lucky enough to attend to listen to her speak about her research and writing processes.

Title: The Schoolgirl Strangler

Author: Katherine Kovacic

Published: January 3, 2021 by Bonnier Echo

Format: 320 pages, paperback

RRP: $32.99 AUD

Source: Own Copy

Goodreads: The Schoolgirl Strangler

The Schoolgirl Strangler by Katherine Kovacic

Book review: The Portrait of Molly Dean by Katherine Kovacic

I’ve been obsessed with books set in the 1930s lately, so I was instantly intrigued by The Portrait of Molly Dean when I discovered that it’s a true murder mystery set against the background of Melbourne’s bustling art scene in 1930.

Goodreads Blurb

An unsolved murder comes to light after almost seventy years…

In 1999, art dealer Alex Clayton stumbles across a lost portrait of Molly Dean, an artist’s muse brutally slain in Melbourne in 1930. Alex buys the painting and sets out to uncover more details, but finds there are strange inconsistencies: Molly’s mother seemed unconcerned by her daughter’s violent death, the main suspect was never brought to trial despite compelling evidence, and vital records are missing. Alex enlists the help of her close friend, art conservator John Porter, and together they sift through the clues and deceptions that swirl around the last days of Molly Dean. 

Review

The Portrait of Molly Dean is based on a real unsolved murder. Molly Dean was brutally murdered in Melbourne in 1930. She was a beautiful and popular artist’s muse who was determined to break out of her complicated home life and make a name for herself as a writer but her murder was never solved and she was almost forgotten.

This novel imagines what might have happened in Molly’s last days via the fictional investigations of an astute Melbourne art dealer who snaps up Molly’s portrait in 1999 for a bargain. As Alex and her art conservator friend investigate the painting and the mystery surrounding the death of Molly Dean, they discover that there were many inconsistencies surrounding the investigation and that there are still people out there who will do whatever it takes to make sure that the truth remained hidden.

There really isn’t anything that I didn’t love about this book! Both the 1930 and 1999 timelines were full of distinctly timely and Melbourne features and I also found the art history fascinating. Molly was such an interesting character that I found myself invested in finding out what happened to her. I feel like I could have been great friends with her. And I loved Alex Clayton the sassy art dealer and will be adding the rest of the Alex Clayton art mystery series to my TBR list!

Details

Published: March 1st 2018 by Bonnier Publishing Australia/Echo

Source: Own copy

Read: Paperback, January – February 2021

Pages: 271 pages

Rating: 5 stars

Goodreads

Amazon AU

Amazon UK

Amazon US

About the author

Katherine Kovacic was a veterinarian but preferred training and having fun with dogs to taking their temperatures. She seized the chance to return to study and earned an MA, followed by a PhD in Art History. Katherine spends her spare time writing, dancing and teaching other people’s dogs to ride skateboards.

A research geek, Katherine is currently fired up by the history of human relationships with animals, particularly as they appear in art. Her first book, The Portrait of Molly Dean, was shortlisted for a Ned Kelly Award for best first fiction.

Katherine lives in suburban Melbourne with a Borzoi, a Scottish Deerhound and a legion of dog-fur dust bunnies.

January 2021. True Crime.

Available in all good bookshops and online (paperback, ebook, audio) including:

The Schoolgirl Strangler (Booktopia)

The Schoolgirl Strangler (Amazon US)

The Schoolgirl Strangler (Amazon Australia)

The Schoolgirl Strangler (Kobo)