Have You Seen Simone? by Virginia Peters

In 2005, German backpacker Simone Strobel went missing from a caravan park in Lismore, New South Wales. When her body was found six days later – naked and barely hidden beneath palms nearby – the suspicion fell on her boyfriend and travel companions. In her first work of non-fiction, author Virginia Peters attempts to investigate her death. Peters first encounters Simone as a face staring out at her from a poster at her local café in Byron Bay. ‘Have You Seen Simone?’ the poster asks.

While the book is packaged as true crime, the story of what happened to Simone does not fit into a neat narrative arc. Nor does the book contain the gratuitous descriptions of violence that often appear in works of this genre. The book spends very little time on the particulars of the crime, as Peters attempts to discover more about Simone and the people that were with her on the night of her disappearance. Witnesses are unreliable, motives are indecipherable and the evidence is inconclusive.

Peters handles this lack of a straight narrative deftly. When she is unable to pin down a motive for Simone’s death the focus shifts to the author’s motive, and our motives as readers. Why are we so drawn to tales of death? And why is Peters drawn to Simone as a subject? In that respect the book has much in common with Helen Garner’s Joe Cinque’s Consolation – we learn as much about the writer, and the writing process, as we do about the suspects and the court procedures. As in Joe Cinque, this book does not have a tidy ending, and there is no neat resolution for the crime of Simone’s murder: her death goes unpunished. And so we are left with a more difficult conclusion than in the average ‘whodunit?’ tale. We are forced to confront the reality that sometimes justice isn’t done.

Brigid Mullane is a freelance reviewer.