Saturday, April 6, 2019



Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

Jane Furlong was seventeen when she disappeared off Auckland City’s Karangahape Road - a notorious sex strip - in 1993. Her disappearance became a media frenzy, with Jane’s face and halo of fiery red hair emblazoned on newspapers and television screens across the country. It soon emerged she was to have been a witness at the trial of a wealthy businessman charged with sex crimes. The police identified a number of suspects. No one was charged. 

Nineteen years later a woman walking her dog on a beach an hour’s drive from Auckland made a gruesome discovery: a skull was poking through the sand. The body in the windswept dunes was found to be that of Jane. Kelly Dennett unveils the story of Jane’s life, her disappearance, the frantic and unsuccessful search to find her, the huge impact on her family and her partner (who rapidly became the police's main suspect), and the abiding mystery of her killer.

Humanity. If there's one thing that resonated to me throughout talented crime reporter Kelly Dennett's first book, it's a sense of empathy and shared humanity. A quarter of a century ago, Jane Furlong vanished from a notorious red light district in New Zealand's biggest city. Jane was a teenager, a mother to a young baby, a drug user, and a prostitute. You can imagine the headlines and some of the attitudes at the time (or still now) among the general public, media, and police.

Dennett does a superb job digging beyond the headlines and bringing us a much broader and more nuanced story of Jane's life before her disappearance, and the impact on those who knew or loved her of never seeing her again. This is a fascinating, very well written book about a tragic case that remains unsolved, even after Jane's body was found a few years ago. Most New Zealander's would at least vaguely recognise the name 'Jane Furlong', without knowing much if anything about her. As Dennett shows, Jane was much more than a headline snapshot of another hooker preyed upon.

There is a heck of a lot to like about this book. It flows wonderfully, and informs without ever feeling lecture-y or soap-boxy. It touches on a lot of broader issues, as well as personal ones.

I was a little surprised to see Dennett putting so much of herself into the story at times, sharing how affected she was by her research and her interviews and interactions with those who knew Jane well, as well as her rollercoaster journey writing the book. But it works, and is quite brave at times.

THE SHORT LIFE AND MYSTERIOUS DEATH OF JANE FURLONG is a book that raises many questions about a variety of societal issues and the way people treat each other individually and in groups, while having the strong central question snaking throughout of 'whodunnit?'.

Jane's case remains unsolved, despite theories and possible suspects. Dennett canvasses a range of scenarios, letting the reader come to their own conclusions around what may have happened to Jane.

This is a very fine book about a Kiwi tragedy that unfortunately is not all that uncommon around the world. Far too many women like Jane have fallen prey to male violence. A heartbreaking tale where Dennett deals with the subject matter, and everyone involved, with compassion and authenticity.

A tale that shows the humanity behind the headlines, from an excellent writer.

Craig Sisterson is a lawyer turned features writer from New Zealand, now living in London. In recent years he’s interviewed hundreds of crime writers and talked about the genre on national radio, top podcasts, and onstage at books festivals on three continents. He has been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards and the McIlvanney Prize, and is founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards. You can heckle him on Twitter. 

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