Books & Literature

Book Review: Banquet: The Untold Story of Adelaide’s Family Murders, by Debi Marshall

TRUE CRIME: Award-winning investigative journalist Debi Marshall interrogates a series of long-standing cold cases that, to this day, haunt South Australia.

A well-researched exposé not for the faint of heart.

TW: murder, paedophilia

As might be predicted from the title, Banquet: The Untold Story of Adelaide’s Family Murders, investigative crime journalist Debi Marshall’s latest exposé is harrowing and difficult to read.

Beginning with the discovery of 16-year-old Alan Barnes’s body in the South Para Reservoir in June 1979, the Family Murders are a series of cold cases that continue to haunt Adelaide, more than four decades later. Alan was the first of five young men between the ages of 14 and 25 who became victims of the Family, a suspected ring of paedophiles and murderers active in Adelaide in the ‘70s and ‘80s. 

Banquet draws from Marshall’s chilling exclusive interviews with Bevan Spencer Von Einem, the only man charged in relation to the Family Murders. Also packed in its 438 pages are police and court records, family accounts, and witness testimonies which expose previously unearthed details about some of the most sadistic crimes in Adelaide’s history.

Marshall writes beautifully, using stirring language and emotive imagery that you don’t often see in non-fiction. She includes numerous interesting revelations about the Family Murders in graphic detail that paints a very different picture of the Adelaide that most locals know.

The facts presented are incredibly well-researched and the author should be commended for the draining effort that this Everest no doubt required. Being that there is so much information to take in and so many names to keep up with, the book may have benefitted from a glossary signifying who’s who. It was a little difficult to remember who each suspect, witness, friend, and alibi was as they were mentioned throughout, particularly because so many figures are referred to with aliases and descriptors due to court suppression orders.

Banquet may also have benefitted from a stronger editing hand, both at a line and structural level. The pacing felt odd in some areas and the book seemed to lack a clear order, with some parts flowing chronologically and others muddled. I found I had to re-read passages to orientate myself, but some of this came down to the information being so awful that I had to do a double-take to make sure the words were real.

Due to the sheer size of the text, amount of information, and distressing content, this book isn’t for the faint of heart. For those wanting a more comprehensive view of the Family Murders, rather than a starting point, Banquet does a sound job of revealing the truth behind a shocking story that needs to be told.

As an Adelaidean reading the details of the murders, including noteworthy names and locations, this is an especially unsettling read. Most of us are familiar with the disturbing and bizarre crimes to plague our city, from the bodies in the barrels (relating to the case of the Snowtown Murders) to the missing Beaumont Children. But learning what really happened at places that are so central to Adelaide life—the River Torrens and North Adelaide’s O’Connell Street, to name a few—brings about the sense that we may not be as safe as we thought in our idyllic little city.

Reviewed by Vanessa Elle
Instagram: @vanessaellewrites

Distributed by: Penguin Books
Released: 31 August 2021
RRP: $34.99

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