Banquet: The Untold Story of Adelaide’s Family Murders
Author: Debi Marshall
Publisher: Penguin Random House Australia, 2022. 448 pages.
Reviewer: Frederick T. Martins | December 2022
Many investigative journalists are skilled at uncovering facts and evidence that result in an explosive expose. Few have the skills of an urban ethnographer and can untangle the cultural, social, and legal variables that create an environment conducive to crime. Debi Marshall, an award-winning investigative journalist, is the latter—a skilled ethnographer who has unraveled the deep, dark secrets of Adelaide, Australia’s underbelly.
Although Marshall explores the sexual predators that preyed on young and innocent teenagers in the 70s and 80s, Banquet is much more than a deep dive into the world of murder and sex. Marshall takes us into a proud culture that heralded South Australia as the only non-penal state in Australia—the Athens of the South.
In Donald Horne’s words, Australia was “the lucky country.” And Adelaide was its gem, containing every brilliant facet of its native opal.
Marshall destroys that myth. She penetrates the thin veneer that has shielded South Australia’s corrupt and crass underbelly from scrutiny. She exposes the hypocrisy and cronyism that has permeated this carefully-crafted fairy-tale. “There is an underbelly in this state that the average person is unaware of. It needs more than just a royal commission. It needs an enema…” Marshall unapologetically and bluntly concludes (p. 182, 213).
Although Marshall is not the first to expose the “widespread prevalence of the sexual abuse of children in South Australia,”—derisively referred to by some as the Phuket of Australia— she takes it to another level. She illustrates how Adelaide’s crusty and corrupt class system twisted and contorted the rule of law. “Money and influential friends; that’s the backbone of South Australia…we don’t do business by passing bags of cash to each other…we are subtler than that …”(p. 37).
Perhaps what Marshall found is no different than anywhere else in the world?
Not so, Marshall concluded. South Australia “punched above its weight” regarding the number of serial killers involved in sexual depravity (p. 5). But Marshall offers a kaleidoscope of images that reveal much more about its culture.
Banquet is about organized crime, racketeering, and corruption. Marshall speaks of judges and magistrates who were likely blackmailed and corrupted because of their predatory sexual indiscretions with children (p. 245, 250, 216). She addresses the longest-serving coroner who lacked the medical skills to conduct credible autopsies and was essentially a shill for whatever finding the police, judges, or the political elites needed to camouflage the actual cause of death (p. 183-190). She examines the investigation and prosecution of sexual predators and concludes a legal conspiracy exists to shield (i.e., suppress) those complicit in acts that fall within the definition of serious and organized crime (P. 279, 385).
Marshall dispels the notion that organized crime is simply drug traffickers, Mafia members, or cartel leaders— so-called outsiders. Insiders represent an existential threat.
For those steeped in the study of organized crime, Marshall demonstrates why and how the invisible hand knows no boundaries.
Frederick T. Martens is a past president of IASOC. He is a charter member of the Vidocq Society. He is the author of One Detective’s Journey into the Abyss (2021) and two other books on organized crime and public corruption.