Every cop has a case that dug its claws in and would not let go. For veteran detective Ron Iddles, it was his very first homicide case—the 1980 murder of single mother Maria James at the back of her bookshop. He never managed to solve it, and it still hurts like hell.
Maria’s two sons, Mark and Adam, have lived in a holding pattern longer than Rachael Brown has been alive. When the investigative journalist learned that a crucial witness’s evidence had never seen daylight, the case would start to consume her—just as it had the detective nearly four decades prior—so she asked for his blessing, and that of the James brothers, to review Maria's case.
In her exhaustive and exhausting 16-month investigation for the podcast Trace, Rachael reviewed initial suspects, found one of her own, and uncovered devastating revelations about a forensic bungle and possible conspiracies that led to calls for the coroner to hold a new inquest.
This is a mesmerizing account, as Rachael traces back through her investigation—one that blew the dust off a 38-year-old cold case, and gave a voice to the forgotten and the abused.
‘There is an irresistible formula to Trace. The bright-eyed investigative journalist teamed with the dogged homicide detective enjoined in the dark art of enquiry — discerning the outline of evidence then calculating the in-between.
The experience of Trace reaches beyond a murder mystery to the interior of the craft — ten parts exhaustion and exasperation to one part excitement and enlightenment.
And there is more. Rachael Brown engages a time-honoured hard dig with a fresh form that welcomes and involves the reader.
This is a special work, a cold case brought to life via the energy of enquiry and, extraordinarily, given its starting point, the redemptive warmth of humanity.’
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‘Trace the podcast is a tour de force of investigation and storytelling against the odds. Trace the book is the story behind the story. Compelling listening turned into compulsory reading.’
‘An outstanding work of long-form audio journalism which crossed platforms, revealing an innate understanding of how audiences would wish to interact with the story.’
Judges' comments from the 2017 Walkley Awards
‘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 … Her propulsive narrative and the many unsettling aspects of this still-open case make Trace a standout among true-crime titles.’
‘You may know her from the ‘Trace’ podcast but the book is meritorious on its own — excellently written. Gripping but not exploitative or gratuitous like poorly-handled true crime can be. I find myself taking notes of lines and expressions, and I definitely resent having to put it down!’
Bri Lee, author of Eggshell Skull
‘Brown’s relentless quest for the truth shines through in this book, yet she never compromises the dignity of and respect for Maria James and her family … Trace the book will appeal to fans of the mega-popular Serial and S-Town podcasts from This American Life, that have helped catapult this genre into the mainstream.’
‘Bearing the traces of its origins as a podcast, Trace is a polyphonic narrative about revisiting the cold-case murder of Melbourne bookshop owner Maria James. The consequences of opening old wounds – for James’ sons, for the original detective on the case and for Rachael Brown as she uncovers new evidence and testimony – are central to the slowly mounting tension and urgency of Trace.’
Sydney Morning Herald
‘It’s a testament to Brown’s sense of duty of care that Maria James is portrayed as a human being rather than a murder victim … Brown bristles at the notion that Trace could be seen as entertainment.’
‘[If] you devoured Serial or love real-life crime books — especially the unsolved ones – it’ll deliver the goods for you.’
Darragh McManus, Irish Independent
‘Brown, with obsessive doggedness, tracks old leads in every direction — and in so doing uncovers viscerally shocking stories of child abuse within the Catholic church … Gripping … She never loses sight of the ongoing cost of murder: the bewilderment and pain in those it leaves behind.’
Jenny McCartney, The Mail on Sunday
‘It is absorbing, and elicits immense respect for the author. Outstanding investigative journalism is not dead.’
Graeme Barrow, Northern Advocate