True crime is not my usual reading genre but I have devoured every word written about the case of Keli Lane and her daughter, Tegan. In a nutshell (and I’ll lift it straight from the blurb of Nice Girl) it’s –
The story of Australian Keli Lane, water polo champion and elite private school teacher, who did not want children, yet became pregnant 5 times in 7 years. She had two abortions and three births. At no time did her family, friends and lovers know that Keli was pregnant. Two babies were adopted and one, Tegan Lane went missing. Keli has been charged with her murder.
The story is nothing short of bizarre and piqued my interest for a number of reasons. Primarily, as a mother, I simply can’t get a handle on Keli Lane’s actions. I won’t hash over what she did and why she did it – police, lawyers and a jury have spent thousands of hours trying to work out Keli Lane and are still none the wiser.
I keep coming back to the video footage of Keli arriving at a friend’s wedding just hours after she supposedly handed her two-day old baby girl over to virtual strangers in a car park. She is cool, composed and wearing a cream suit (despite having lost a large amount of blood during the birth). I look at that footage and wonder how she is not emotionally and physically shattered by what she has just done.
“Pretty cool, don’t you think?” says the coroner, giving Sandy a hard look.
“Well, I don’t know…” begins Sandy, her newly acquired confidence beginning to falter.
“Put yourself in her position. Imagine having a baby secretly, giving it to someone who you hardly know and coming home, getting dressed and going with your boyfriend – and the baby is not his, by the way, or we don’t think it is, and…going to a wedding,” says the coroner.
Nice Girl by Rachael Chin is a true page-turner. I was reading while I prepared meals, sneaking in ten minutes reading at school pick-up and getting no work done for a whole afternoon when I started reading at lunchtime and then just kept going.
Earlier this year I read another account of the Keli Lane story, The Child That Never Was by Allison Langdon. I suspect Langdon’s book was published opportunistically, taking advantage of the media hype surrounding the Coroner’s inquest. Although it was as equally gripping, it was light weight (more like a feature article, bound and given an eye-catching cover!).
In contrast, Chin’s Nice Girl is tightly written and based on the hard facts published in the Corner’s findings and after Keli Lane’s trial, including large sections of dialogue. There is also a lot of interesting scene-setting material about Manly, water polo, rugby and the role of the Lane family in Manly’s insular social scene, all of which provides context for Keli’s story.
Read this book with a big bowl of saucy spaghetti to match Keli’s slippery lies.
4/5 (or in other words, the Christmas shopping will have to wait because once you start this, you won’t be able to put it down)
P.S. If you want more true crime reviews (unlikely to read them here!) pop over to my Twitter pal’s website, True Crime Reader.