Many reviews of Every Parent’s Nightmare make for fascinating reading in their own right. Here are some of them:
-by Daniel Herborn, Australian Book Review, June 2013 https://www.australianbookreview.com.au/abr-online/current-issue/102-june-2013-no-352/1491-jock-palfreeman-s-bulgarian-tragedy
‘Jock Palfreeman’s Bulgarian Tragedy
Like the best examples of true crime books, Every Parent’s Nightmare goes far beyond the tragedy at its centre and places it in its socio-economic context. Belinda Hawkins details how a death in Bulgaria back in 2007 became a highly politicised incident, and offers a convincing explanation as to why the trial was so sloppy and one-sided.
Newspapers were full of the story at the time, but to recap: Jock Palfreeman, who had attended a private school in Sydney, was arrested for murdering a young Bulgarian, Andrei Monov, who died of a knife wound. Palfreeman’s explanation was that, armed with a knife, he had intervened when a gypsy was being beaten by a group of football hooligans and that he had acted in self-defence. The prosecutors argued that, motivated by his radical politics, he murdered Monov and wounded Monov’s friend Antoan Zahariev in cold blood.
Hawkins sets the scene of a post-independence Bulgaria, which has endured economic hardship, organised crime, racism (particularly against the gypsy minority), and football hooliganism. There has also been concern from human rights bodies over the country’s police and judicial systems. The other important background was a groundswell of feeling in Bulgaria that foreigners were drawn to Sofia for cheap drugs, alcohol, and prostitutes; local media often presented Palfreeman as an outsider who was intent on trashing Bulgarian culture.
Hawkins explores the background of Palfreeman, a strikingly unusual character whose appetite for life and adventure contains many seemingly irreconcilable contradictions. A compulsive traveller and self-styled Robin Hood figure, he baffled even close friends when he decided to join the British army, an odd move given the anti-establishment views he often espoused. His defining personality traits are a ‘compulsion to help the underdog’ and a ‘propensity to intervene’, which may explain why he chose to step in where many would have fled. Even when imprisoned, he continued to stand up to bullies and tried to form a union to agitate for the rights of his fellow inmates. This streak goes way back; as a teenager he had helped a protester who was being beaten by police at a Sydney May Day event.
One of the most interesting threads of Every Parent’s Nightmare is its examination of the contrasting personalities of Jock and his pathologist father, Simon. While Jock is impulsive and gripped by passions, his father is meticulous and values control and orderliness. The passages describing Simon’s grief at not being able to help his son more, even as he racks up dozens of soul-destroying and energy-sapping trips to and from the Bulgarian capital, are among the most affecting in the book.
From the outset it became clear that the trial would not be impartial. The trial judge consistently interpreted witness statements in the most damaging way for the defendant. CCTV footage from the ministry of health, which would have offered a crucial viewpoint of the fatal incident, disappeared in mysterious circumstances, allegedly due to a damaged hard drive. Witnesses for the prosecution were allowed to change their stories significantly. Little effort seems to have been made to locate the gypsies whom Jock tried to help. Given the notorious prejudice against them in the judicial system, it is perhaps unsurprising that they did not come forward.
Potential key witnesses at trial were security guards who supported Palfreeman’s version of events: that he brandished his knife only after being attacked. But their testimony wasn’t accepted by the court, who instead accepted a less plausible sequence of events according to which Jock somehow trapped a much larger group single-handedly and wounded the two men out of premeditated malice rather than panicked self-defence.
The author seems to have had regular access to the Palfreemans. There is a danger in this: her book could have suffered from a close identification with their views. But Hawkins is at pains to include independent perspectives on the death. She tries to articulate the Monov family’s grief, particularly his mother’s devastation on losing her son.
Every Parent’s Nightmare becomes heavy-going, a consequence of the nature of the story rather than of Hawkins’s reportage, which is excellent throughout. The comprehensiveness of her research only heightens the frustrating nature of Jock Palfreeman’s situation, especially during the trial when the court seems to veer further from the truth as it goes along, proceeding inexorably towards a guilty verdict and a subsequent failed appeal. Here, with one disheartening setback after another, the messiness of life frustrates any attempt to mould the events into a recognisable narrative arc. As Jock’s hellish experience in the dilapidated Sofia Central Prison lengthens, the possibility of the truth being uncovered begins to seem ever more remote. As Hawkins concedes in the prologue, ‘it is impossible to pin down exactly what happened’. Given the fractured and changing recollections of those involved, it is a fair assessment.
A final appeal to the European Court of Human Rights may yet provide a sensational epilogue, but the overall feeling is that Palfreeman and family are completely exhausted after this lengthy and frustrating legal process. Despite its commendable coverage of the background to the case, Every Parent’s Nightmare never loses sight of the human element or of the tragedy at its centre. The enduring image is of a young man who can only regret arming himself one night, an impulsive decision that has altered the lives of several people forever.’
-by Dr Julie Landvogt, Melbourne Review, May 2013
‘Every Parent’s Nightmare
You go out to dinner and have a few beers. As you walk home, you see a group of youths harassing a member of a minority group; they have been drinking. You intervene on instinct – after all, it is many against a few.
Things go awry; the scuffle turns into something much more complicated, the sequence of events is not clear, and at the end one person is dead, the man at the centre of the original fracas has vanished, and you are under arrest.
The story of Jock Palfreeman begins in familiar territory; a bumpy adolescence in Sydney, a time of travel, a decision to settle and make a career that would let him continue living abroad – for Jock, that was with the British Army which actively recruits young people from Commonwealth countries. While he may not always have been easy to live with, Jock seems a young man of principled instincts; from his early years incidents demonstrate his impulse to side with the underdog, regardless of his own safety or wider consequences. At school he was the one to challenge in class about issues like capital punishment, in the playground when he perceived bullying, in public about the detention of asylum seekers. His parents sent him to elite private schools; at fifteen he joined a Socialist youth organization.
But this is not fiction, and it’s not finished; now 26, Jock has been found guilty of unprovoked murder and is serving 20 years in a Bulgarian jail. Belinda Hawkins’ careful discussion of the legal and police processes, and her attempt to unravel the events of that night, make chilling reading. Stop now. Think about Bulgaria, a country emerging from Soviet domination towards democracy. What does that suggest to you? Empty shops? Poorly tended footpaths? Baffling Cyrillic alphabet? KGB thugs?
Or do you think of summer cities on the young traveller’s EasyJet route, party weekends of cheap travel, accommodation and alcohol?
Perhaps your image of Bulgaria includes the cities of Serdica (now the capital, Sofia) and Philippopolis (now Plovdiv), key stops on the Via Diagonalis, one of the great roads traversing the Roman Empire. You may have seen the remains of ancient theatres or know that here have been found human remains dating back more than 40,000 years. This is a country that supplied wine to the Trojans.
Jock Palfreeman’s experience of Bulgaria spans all these elements, but he was no short-term visitor, passing through for a week; he came, he stayed, he lived in a village and had a job. He had local friends and was beginning to learn the language. He had an understanding of how things worked. The strength of Hawkins’ telling of the events that began with that December night in 2007 is that she never falls into the trap of Bulgaria = Bad, Aussie lad = Good. Truth is rarely so simple. It seems clear that there are valid concerns about the conduct of proceedings – about missing evidence, evidence inadequately explored, seemingly selective witness examination and more. Key Bulgarian figures as well as Australian lawyers question both the fairness of the legal process and the findings. But a young man is dead, and Jock had a knife.
Why was Jock carrying a knife? It was a matter of chance, not habit; and Australian readers need to know that carrying a knife of this kind is not illegal in Bulgaria. Yet it was not his knife, and not his custom; he had been attacked before and knew the need to take care, but his preferred protection was pepper spray, also readily available and legal. On this night, however, there had been no opportunity to buy spray, even if he had anticipated trouble; Jock had returned to Bulgaria only briefly and at the last minute to spend the army Christmas break with friends. On this night, his preference had been to stay in; it had been a long day, it was cold, and home was comfortable. But it was his friend’s send-off, and he agreed to go to the city. A knife his friend had bought on a whim and used around the dilapidated house, lay next to his Army ID on the kitchen table; at the last moment he put it in his pocket along with the ID.
Hawkins is an award-winning journalist whose style suits an account needing thorough, disciplined investigation to provoke public discussion. She doesn’t take sides; her role is to examine the facts and piece together a chronology. The story is told slowly, reporting rather than lecturing; occasionally this feels almost like a thriller, where we are warned to pay particular attention because more will unfold about events or characters. But suddenly the voice shifts from narrative to analysis and we remember that this is far from holiday reading.
Hawkins’ interest was sparked by her connection, as a mother of children of similar age, with the parents on both sides of this tragedy. “I knew my children would go travelling as soon as they finished school, just as I had done,” she told me when I caught up with her in Melbourne. “Indeed when I was 19 I caused my parents no end of anguish as I disappeared hitch-hiking around the United Kingdom and France, at one point working for some Gypsies who travelled from fair to fair selling confectionary.” Indeed while this is Jock’s story, it is also Everyman’s. An increasing number of young Australians head off on gap years in search of adventure and experience. Anyone of them could wind up in trouble, due to misfortune or a lack of judgment. It can be a short step from dream journey to traveller’s nightmare, parent’s nightmare.
If adult children are in trouble, what is our role? Is it incumbent on parents to believe from the outset that their child is innocent? Simon Palfreeman, Jock’s father, makes many trips to Sofia to support his son, and finds himself playing an active part in his son’s defence. The role does not come easily; he is a reserved and quiet man, with a pathologist’s forensic attention to detail. For a long time he assumes that the activation of legal processes equates to fair and complete examination of evidence, and that Jock’s sentence would reflect that; but he comes to understand that for his son to have even a chance that the available evidence will be fully considered, he must fight.
Hawkins writes carefully of both the tensions and the love as their relationship grows through immense strain from father and son to something much more equal – both able to bear differences, both able to understand strength and weakness. Their growing respect for one another as human beings, their understanding of their different perspectives, is moving. On the other side, Hristo Monov, the dead boy’s father, takes every opportunity on national media to seek a harsher sentence; he uses his reputation as a psychologist with a special interest in youth violence to condemn Jock as a wastrel, a deliberate murderer likely to kill again, and to tell the story of his high achieving son, his only child. His loss is palpable.
The number and range of people whose voices inform this narrative is astonishing. But not everyone wants to speak to journalists, and the book has gaps; we don’t hear much from Jock’s mother, or from the parents of Andrei Monov.
“Together with Bulgarian journalist Boryana Dzhambazova, I contacted most of the witnesses and experts who gave testimony to get their firsthand accounts of the incident and its aftermath,” explained Hawkins who hired Dzhambazova as an interpreter and research assistant. “I also secured interviews with the prosecutor, the police investigator and some of the judges. But Andrei Monov’s father flatly refused to talk to anyone who came, as he said, from a country that produced a ‘monster like Jock Palfreeman’. Near the end of my research, Andrei’s mother agreed to meet with me and the experience was an emotionally wrenching one for both of us. She agreed that I could write in her voice about the experience of losing a child. But in that meeting she was more concerned with lambasting the accused and the head of the Bulgarian human rights organization who believed his version of events, than with helping me understand her son.”
Such absences serve to remind us that many people hold part of this story, and no one holds it all. The Every Parent’s Nightmare Facebook page and website post updates on key individuals as well as on the political climate in Bulgaria; this tale is far from over.
This book should be read to draw attention to the plight of a young man incarcerated far away, for a crime of which he is perhaps innocent. But that is not the only reason. While Hawkins’ intention is to explore carefully the events and their consequences, in order better to understand what occurred that night and how the legal system came to its decision, her book raises wider questions. If you see a person being beaten by a large group, what is the right action to take? To what extent should one work within an existing legal system, if it appears to act in contravention of principles of fair process? How might such systems be most effectively challenged?
Inside jail, Jock Palfreeman continues to stand up for what he sees as right. Hawkins’ book challenges us to ask if we should be doing the same.’
– by Adam Fletcher, The Conversation, 26 March 2013
‘ ‘The Case of Jock Palfreeman and the Human Rights of Australians Overseas
Belinda Hawkins’ recently released book Every Parent’s Nightmare tells the story of Jock Palfreeman, who was convicted for murder in Bulgaria in December 2009 and sentenced to 20 years in jail. Palfreeman has made headlines twice this year for his hunger strike against prison authorities, after they refused to let him continue his studies, and the ongoing refusal by the Bulgarian government to allow Palfreeman to serve the remainder of his sentence in Australia.
Hawkins, a journalist with the ABC’s Australian Story, became curious about Palfreeman’s case in 2008 after being contacted by one of his friends.
Five years and seven trips to Bulgaria later, Hawkins has written a compelling book which takes the reader through the case chronologically, starting in December 2007 when Palfreeman’s family hears the news that he is in trouble. As far as his parents knew, he was in England, having recently enlisted in the British Army. In reality, he was on leave in Bulgaria with friends. He had been involved in a fight in St Nedelya Square in the capital Sofia with a tragic outcome – two young Bulgarian men were stabbed; one fatally.
The case is not a simple one, and there are many conflicting accounts of what occurred. Briefly, Palfreeman’s version of events is he saw a group of more than a dozen young men attacking two Roma people and rushed to their defence. He was (legally) carrying a friend’s butterfly knife, having experienced violence in Bulgaria on previous visits. He brandished the knife to ward off the attackers after they turned on him. He has no memory of stabbing anyone in the ensuing scuffle.
According to the prosecution, the story about the Roma was a concoction and Palfreeman was simply a dangerous sociopath who attacked Andrei Monov and his friends unprovoked. The fact the group was seen by independent witnesses throwing paving stones at Palfreeman was explained away as a defensive reaction after the stabbings.
Hawkins highlights several problems with the case, including unexplained failures to interview key witnesses and to secure relevant CCTV footage on the part of police, as well as a prejudicial pre-trial interview with the prosecutor. She also details inconsistencies in statements from prosecution witnesses and raises serious doubts about the forensic pathology. Independent psychologists’ positive assessment of Palfreeman is ignored in favour of the assessment of the victim’s father, who also happens to be suing Palfreeman for damages arising out of the incident (as part of the same proceedings). Palfreeman’s own father is pressed into the demanding role of second counsel for the defence, despite his lack of legal training.
Hawkins’ account raises serious concerns about the fairness of Palfreeman’s trial. Bulgaria is party to both the European Convention on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which guarantee impartial tribunals and the presumption of innocence. Both of these seem to have been found wanting in this case.
Having previously worked as a legal adviser to an international NGO which aims to stamp out torture and other ill-treatment in detention, I was struck particularly by Hawkins’ descriptions of the conditions Palfreeman faced (indeed, still faces). He suffered a beating in the police van immediately after his arrest, and has since endured appalling prison conditions, including:
- being forced to heat food with razor blades fashioned into an element heated by wires inserted directly into the mains;
- being asked, during a tuberculosis outbreak in the prison, to submit to a blood test with no guarantee of a clean needle;
- being sent to solitary confinement in freezing temperatures for insisting on consistent enforcement of prison regulations.
As recently as December last year, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture reported that the Bulgarian prison system displays “disturbing levels of overcrowding”, material conditions which are “not acceptable” and health care which was not “worthy of the name”.
The book’s inevitably gloomy conclusion is lightened somewhat by the revelation that Palfreeman seems to have discovered a new purpose. With the help of the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, he has formed an official Prisoners Rehabilitation Association to advocate for prisoners’ rights – the first of its kind in Bulgaria. He is also planning to appeal his case to the European Court of Human Rights.
Although it could apply equally to Palfreeman’s family, the description “every parent’s nightmare” actually seems to have been inspired by the man who arranged Andrei Monov’s funeral. With the 20-year sentence confirmed by Bulgaria’s highest court, nightmare is certainly an apt description for the experience of both the Palfreemans and the Monovs.’
– by Jim Morgan, Crikey, May 2014
It’s taken me a year to get around to reading this book of a living nightmare, but the story and the nightmare goes on still.
Belinda Hawkins is an established TV journalist, known nationally for over fifteen years for her significant part in the ABC’s Australian Story – she is expert at how to present a narrative and make the reader think about it.
Recently she spent twelve months of her long service leave travelling to and from Bulgaria to record the trial of a New South Welshman, Jock Palfreeman.
Palfreeman was accused of the 2009 slaying of a Bulgarian football supporter in the street — you could not call it a ‘brawl’… more a disorganised running confrontation between this enlisted member of the British Army and a bunch of Bulgarian middleclass followers of association football. (That inconclusive ritual that, despite brainwashing from FIFA, old Australians and most Brits still call ‘soccer.’)
In the brawl, Palfreeman wielded the hideous weapon somehow in his possession, a ‘butterfly’ knife (a diagram would have helped me) that no self-respecting Aussie ‘larrikin’ would ever have carried, a gun maybe or a cricket bat, but not this knife — that’s for ‘Wogs’ — well, thank goodness, we no longer think like that, but it was a blade as flash as the best of them — I’m told this by Gen X, familiar as they are with bladed exotica from The Outsiders.
Palfreeman’s story is horrific — this could so easily happen to anyone, and having happened, trail in its wake nightmares for parents, and long journeys to the sweetly named city of Sofia that sounds more like comfy furniture than a place of doom.
We are always conscious of the writer’s presence, of Hawkins’ real part in the unwinding story of a young man’s incarceration far from home that drags his parents, and her, back and forth in his defence, all against the background of another tragic story of another boy — the Bulgarian boy who died, his parents, and his lost promise as a law student — the story whose fragmented details from CCTV fail to support the plea of self-defence.
Non-fiction writing, the literature of fact, seems to gain ever more power over our imaginations than the purely imagined story. Hawkins’ book is a triumph of detailed research and relentless pursuit of what can be known, wherein, devastatingly, there lies no reward for those concerned.’
– by Lauren Murphy, The Australian Bookshelf
It becomes clear early in the story that Hawkins is a talented investigative journalist who has followed many leads and questioned many stakeholders in this case to try to gather as much information as possible. If only the Bulgarian police and legal representatives had done the same. It’s frighteningly frustrating to read how many careless mistakes were made and how people in power can change someone’s life forever. I just can’t believe how much value the legal system put on the group of boys’ statements about the evening when they were so clearly unreliable! …Belinda doesn’t paint Jock as a saint; she provides a holistic perspective on this adventurous young bloke whose strengths are sometimes his greatest weakness. I really empathised for him throughout the story and could relate to his frustration at the bureaucracies he faced. How helpless and disempowered he must have felt at times. And yet he’s a strong guy who tries to make the best of any situation; I enjoyed reading about his antics in prison, how he advocated for fair treatment and stood up for prisoner rights. I could also relate and empathise with Jock’s father Simon, a timid man who faces one of the biggest challenges of his life. Hawkins realistically portrays the range of emotions Simon must have experienced when he learnt his son was locked up in a Bulgarian prison. The ambivalence he initially felt at Jock’s innocence to the strong sense of injustice he feels when he realises that there’s not enough power on his son’s side to ensure he has a fair trial.
Every Parent’s Nightmare is the true story of a young man’s fate on trial in Bulgaria. I experienced so many different emotions reading this story, but the most prominent was frustration and disbelief. It certainly makes me appreciate my home country. Though I love to travel, I can’t say Bulgaria will make it on my bucket list after reading this story!
Overall Rating 4/5 “I loved this book!”
-by Shelleyrae Cusbert, Book’d Out, July 2013
In 2008, ABC TV’s Australian Story senior journalist Belinda Hawkins fielded a phone call about a young man being held in a Bulgarian prison. Jock Palfreeman, an Australian national and British Army recruit, had been accused of murder after a brawl in the country’s capital and was facing a life sentence. The story caught Hawkins interest and this book, Every Parent’s Nightmare, is the result of a comprehensive five year investigation.
With access to police reports, legal documents, CCTV footage and witnesses, Hawkins pieces together the most likely sequence of events on the night of December 27th, 2007 after Jock Palfreeman’s decision to defend a Gypsy being harassed by a drunken group of privileged young Bulgarians. She then goes on to expose the flawed investigation and corrupt procedures that led to Jock’s conviction for the murder of Andrei Monov…
Every Parent’s Nightmare is a well crafted and meticulously researched account of a tragedy that left one young man dead and another jailed for life. Confronting, moving and utterly gripping, this is a true life story that deserves public notice.’
-by Andrew Cattanach, Booktopia, June 2013
Wrong place, wrong time.
Some phrases are uttered so often in our daily lives that they lose their punch, struggling to convey the real horror behind them.
Sometimes you can be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and be late for work.
Sometimes you can be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and get trapped in an awkward conversation.
Jock Palfreeman was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and now he’s in a Bulgarian prison cell for murder.
In 2009, Jock Palfreeman was found guilty of the murder of Andrei Monov, the only son of two people well connected in the Sofia legal fraternity. He claims he went to the defence of gypsies being attacked by Monov and a bunch of soccer hooligans. The Bulgarians claim it was an act of cold-blooded murder.
The first thing that struck me about Belinda Hawkins’ first book Every Parent’s Nightmare was how meticulous it was. So many true crime books can skip merrily over important details in the hope of swaying you towards their side of the argument, but Every Parent’s Nightmare lays everything on the table. It’s a riveting journey of right and wrong, perception and truth. One senses Hawkins is only too aware that the event itself is the selling point, intelligently leaving sensationalism at the door and, refreshingly, editorialising to a minimum.
Her own part to play in the Jock Palfreeman saga is as the eye of the storm. Acutely aware of the emotions swirling around her but able to articulate the key moments over the days and months of this harrowing story.
Another engaging element was that, despite the detail of the investigation, Every Parent’s Nightmare retains a near noir quality. It’s an absolute page-turner. It was only after I learnt more about the author that I discovered, and it now comes as no surprise, that while Hawkins has been a Walkley-Award winning journalist for over 30 years, she also has a Master of Arts in English Literature. Her understanding of the subtleties of a deeply human story is wonderful.
The most frightening aspect of Jock Palfreeman’s story is that he seems like the kind of young man I always wanted to be. Free-spirited, gregarious and passionate about eradicating injustice. Always standing up to bullies, whether it be on the behalf of friends or strangers. And despite all these qualities, he finds himself on the wrong side of the bars. It’s a story I always wanted to know more about, and now I do. And if you were like me, grab a copy, and know more.’
-by Fiona Crawford, Boomerang, June 2013
Almost every person in prison protests their innocence, but Australian Jock Palfreeman*, who is serving 20 years in a Bulgarian prison for the death of a Bulgarian national, arguably has more reasons to protest than most: it’s unlikely he committed the crime.
For a little over five years (and while much of the Aussie-locked-up-OS attention has gone Schapelle Corby’s way), Jock’s been incarcerated in a Bulgarian prison under more-than-dubious circumstances.
Jock’s story commences as any number of Australians’ does: He’s 19, restless, fearless, and setting out on the great European adventure. Having grown up in Australia, he has no sense that not every other country operates by the same rules.
Rushing in to defend a Roma man in Bulgaria from attack by some youths, Jock goes from good samaritan guided by a strong moral compass to accused (and soon convicted) murderer. Andrei Monov, one of the youths and the son of a Bulgarian power couple, was stabbed and died during the melee.
It’s unclear whether Jock, who was foolishly and uncharacteristically carrying a knife for self-defence that night, stabbed Andrei. This is in part because the authorities didn’t try very hard to obtain crucial CCTV footage and because the witnesses (the other youths in the fight) changed their stories (and were allowed to do so uncontested).
What is clear is that he had the best of intentions.
Describing and understanding Jock is nearly impossible. He’s a pacifist, yet had just signed up to the British Army. Award-winning journalist Belinda Hawkins, author of Every Parent’s Nightmare, writes, ‘He wasn’t a greenie, a hippie, a punk, a Trotskyite, an anarchist or a conservative, though he had friends who happily wore one or other of those labels.’ His father sums it up simply: ‘Jock’s heart would have been in the right place, if not his head.’
Bulgaria is a country still cloaked in communist ways. Its human rights record is red flagged, and court cases prior to Jock’s had drawn the attention of international authorities for the shonkiness of their conduct.
So now has Jock’s, as his case’s truths are stranger than fiction, testing the limits of credulity. The forensic doctor in charge of crucial evidence was arrested accused of aiding an illegal organ harvesting scheme. The prosecutor’s partner purportedly had connections to the mafia. Both were allowed to continue in their roles.
The civil and criminal cases ran in conjunction with, and influenced, each other. Unsubstantiated evidence, such as misreported newspaper articles, were not only referenced but allowed to stand. Frankly, I’m still confused why everyone watched the CCTV footage in a crowded room, but the defence could not watch it separately or obtain copies…
The book title is ringingly accurate: Every Parent’s Nightmare. It’s a nod to parents’ worst fears being realised, despite their best efforts to shepherd their children safely through the world. It’s also a hint of the even-handedness of this book.
Hawkins could easily have sided with the Palfreemans, championing Jock’s stringing up and shoddy treatment at the hands of the authorities (of which there was plenty). Instead she depicts the tale as one of a dual tragedy: the Palfreemans’ and the Monovs’. Both families have, through a tragic sequence of events, lost their sons.
The book opens with a map of the crime scene, a la that which you traditionally find in speculative fiction books. I initially thought it a nice touch, then later found it extremely necessary. How many takes can you have of one event?! I repeatedly, incredulously found myself thinking throughout.
Hawkins’ careful investigation unfurls the story better than the prosecution ever did, and with it reveals some incredibly complex characters. Jock is an impetuous, but principled young man. His father, Simon, a pathologist who has to step up to drive Jock’s defence, is so straight he was voted ‘most likely to be Pope’ by his primary school classmates.
There are uncanny parallels between the Palfreemans’ and Monovs’ lives, although oddly Simon seems to understand that his son isn’t perfect, but the Monovs can’t entertain any notion that their son wasn’t. The Monovs chose not to be interviewed for the book, but it takes nothing away from Hawkins’ efforts to remain objective.
Every Parents’ Nightmare is gripping reading, albeit one accompanied by a constant, low-level frustration at the authorities’ blundering incompetence and neglect. There is so much evidence in Jock’s case that wasn’t collected or wasn’t allowed to be tendered, and then much that shouldn’t have been.
Bulgarian media inaccurately portrayed him as ‘the kind of dissolute foreigner many believed came to Bulgaria to have a good time on the cheap, with no regard for the country or its people.’ As Hawkins writes: ‘… the Australian in the public mind was of a homeless, drugged-up, foreign commando who went out with strippers and had slaughtered a student in a calculated attack. There was worse to come.’
That includes a poorly laid claim by Sydney barrister Jonathan Cohen that Jock had assaulted him—it was quickly disproved because Jock hadn’t even been in Australia at the time. For some reason, this of all things incensed me. That’s probably because until that point I’d considered the absence of delivered justice the Bulgarian court’s fault, and now here was an Australian inflicting further, senseless damage. Moreover Cohen, a man of the law, should have known and done better with investigating the issue before bandying around accusations.
Jock’s story taps into wider issues of Australians not expecting trouble overseas and that if they do encounter it, the Australian government and their parents will be able to resolve it. Jock’s is also a very recognisable, very common tale: You get caught up in a fight while out drinking one night in Europe. It could happen to anyone.
Jock’s case rebukes the notions everyone will receive a fair trial (a ‘fair go’, if you want to get all Aussie) and that the truth will set you free. That’s not to say that Jock wasn’t at times his own worst enemy. When his ex-lawyer asked if there was anything he needed, Jock replied, ‘Just a Kalashnikov […] So I can shoot my way out of here.’ Likewise, I think ‘no fascism’ is an odd thing to yell while trying to break up a fight. Why not just ‘stop’?
What would you do if your son was jailed for life in a hellhole of a Bulgarian prison for a crime you believe he didn’t commit? Hawkins’ book asks. How far would you go for the ones you love?
They’re big questions and utterly wrenching ones no parent ever wants to have to answer… I’ve only spent a week with it, but this tale is already haunting me. I look forward to reading Hawkins’ next installations.’
Fiona Crawford also published an interview with Belinda Hawkins about the process of writing Every Parent’s Nightmare: http://blog.boomerangbooks.com.au/every-parents-nightmare-part-2/2013/06