Bibliophile | ‘The Unbelieved’ is a shocking page-turner full of twists

The Unbelieved
by Vikki Petraitis
Allen & Unwin

Warning: This review contains mentions of sexual assault

Senior Detective Antigone Pollard needed to get away from Melbourne after the tragic ramifications of her last case. Gemma Watson had come to her after being sexually assaulted but the “great bloke with the handsome face, condescending lawyers and wealthy doting parents” got off.

Another casualty of the case had been breaking off her relationship with another detective who was ten years her senior, so Antigone decided to take a posting in Deception Bay where she grew up. Unfortunately, “fleeing a problem doesn’t mean it can’t follow you in wisps of memory and nightmare”.

Deception Bay’s last crime wave consisted of a group of teens smashing letter boxes but, although the deceptive coastal waters were calm on the surface, it doesn’t mean that there weren’t jagged and dangerous rocks underneath.

It wasn’t long before Antigone was targeted at the local pub, having her drink spiked and being attacked in the car park. It turns out that there had been a spate of women being sexually assaulted after having drinks at pubs in the area but nothing had been done about it.

Vikki Petraitis is known for her true crime books, including The Frankston Murders, and her expertise lies in interviewing police and victims to create successful narratives. The Unbelieved has just won the A&U Crime Fiction Prize from 340 manuscripts submitted for the competition.

In her crime fiction, Petraitis reports that in one year 4300 victims in Victoria reported being sexually assaulted and 41 offenders were jailed as a result. A search of Google shows that, in Australia, approximately 1.5% of sexual assault cases end in a conviction and only 20% of sexual assault cases are actually reported.

When eighteen year-old Meg Mulligan is found wandering along the road – dazed, drugged and probably sexually assaulted, with her white dress smeared with blood after being pushed out of a car, Antigone is reminded of Gemma and the system that let her down.

With her ex-police dog Waffles to protect her, Antigone is courageous and dedicated to exposing secrets, confronting the lies entrenched in the small town and connecting all the evidence. Unfortunately, as in real life, the baddies are not always caught, and what happens when the courts don’t do their jobs?

The Unbelieved is a real page-turner with some unexpected twists. As Petraitis says, “It was a refreshing change to seek justice within the pages of fiction, because in real life, it’s much harder to find.”

Lezly Herbert

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