Books & Literature

Book Review: Seven Bones, by Peter Seymour & Jason K. Foster

TRUE CRIME: Seven Bones is the story of one of the more bizarre murder investigations in Australia’s history. Two wives die in suspicious circumstances: co-incidence or, as husband Thomas Keir describes it, ‘bad luck’?

An important story, but a disappointing read.

In 1989 in Western Sydney, Detective Peter Seymour was handed a Missing Person’s file. Jean Keir had apparently walked out on her husband Thomas Keir and toddler son, run off with another man, and never been heard from since. Nothing much came of that initial investigation, until three years later when at the same address, a woman was found strangled and burnt. That woman was Keir’s wife. But not Jean. This was his second wife, Rosalina, who happened to be Jean’s cousin. This new development led to the reopening of Jean Keir’s file, and its relabelling as a murder investigation. 

Seven Bones tells the story of the investigations into both Jean’s and Rosalina’s deaths, Keir’s subsequent trials and appeals, and the important role the eponymous bones found in Keir’s backyard, played in this horrific scenario.

Originally published in 2011, this second edition has been published since Keir was released from prison two years ago. Frustratingly though, there is no preface added to this edition to bring us up-to-date. And this was also a missed opportunity to do some judicious editing. 

Told from the point of view of Seymour, Foster has relied on transcripts and an enormous amount of dialogue, presumably much of it paraphrased or imaginatively recreated. This has resulted in significant padding. Do we really need to read the exact words Seymour was saying to the recalcitrant photocopier? In fact, do we need to know the photocopier was playing up at all? Presumably, Foster is trying to create some sense of place and atmosphere but succeeds only in making the reader want to skim over large chunks of the book. 

The late ‘80s/early ‘90s were a different time, to state the obvious. And some sense of what that was like is essential to an authentic telling of Jean and Rosalina’s stories. However, the repetitive use of terms like “blokes”, “sheilas”, and “fair dinkum”, combined with clunky dialogue like, “You wanted to see me boss”, just makes for a self-conscious folksiness that is excruciating. The decision to write this work in first person was a questionable one. It would have been much more readable in third person. 

Despite these issues, Foster and Seymour have an important tale to tell, and one which is sadly all too common. It is a testament to Seymour, his fellow detectives, and the dogged work of police, forensic investigators, and prosecutors, in bringing men like Keir to some form of justice, albeit after decades. 

True-crime writing has come a long way even in the last 10 years. Falling within this genre are now some works of outstanding literary non-fiction. Unfortunately, Seven Bones reads more like the transcript of an episode of some ‘70s crime drama. 

Jean and Rosalina’s stories need to be told and never forgotten. As I type this, another woman is probably being killed by her partner or ex-partner. And countless more are being coercively controlled, abused, and assaulted, by the men who claim to love them. 

Seven Bones is another addition to the canon of work on this issue, and certainly deserves kudos for keeping this story in the public eye. 

Reviewed by Tracey Korsten
Twitter: @TraceyKorsten

Distributed by: Big Sky Publishing
Released: 10 May 2021
RRP: $29.99

More News

To Top