Bibliophile | Holly Watt considers the journalist’s role in ‘The Dead Line’

The Dead Line
by Holly Watt
Raven Books

Casey Benedict works as an investigative reporter for the Post newspaper in London. When the fashion editor presents her with a taffeta and tulle skirt for a high end fashion shop, she sees there is a piece of white silk folded among the petticoats. Embroidered on the silk is a message – “they take the girls”.

I actually recall reading about when messages were found in clothes and the scandal hit the media that the women in sweat shops who produced clothes to be sold to wealthy foreigners for exorbitant prices were denied basic human rights and given very little money.

Casey and her team find out that the messages appear to be placed by Bangladeshi women forced into slave labour and living inhumane conditions. Their investigations also reveal that young women and girls have been kidnapped from a refugee camp in Bangladesh where they have been denied their human rights – something which has also been reported in the media.

When another message is found – “they take the babies for the English women” – the plot thickens and I recall the furor in the media about ‘baby Gammy’. When an Australian couple used a surrogate mother in Thailand, they refused to take one of their twins who was born with Down syndrome after the surrogate refused to abort the baby because of her religious beliefs.

So, award-winning British investigative journalist Holly Watt’s intense novel has created a perfect storm by combining issues that have already been documented. The action is non-stop as the fictional journalists throw grenades into people’s lives and reveal the more sordid sides of humanity that people in comfortable lounge rooms would rather ignore.

While the seemingly endless nightmare the journalists inhabit trying to get their stories seems extreme, Watt reminds the reader that journalists have immersed themselves in dangerous situations plenty of times and have even been killed while on assignment.

At one stage, Casey says that they could never just go into a situation and fix it. That is not the role of journalists. Their role is to highlight crimes against humanity in the hope that the rest of the world will to do something, somewhere, and this is what The Dead Line does as well.

Lezly Herbert

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