Smoke And Mirrors by Robin Bowles. This review is by John Cook

 

Smoke and Mirrors

Smoke and Mirrors

By Robin Bowles
2015

This is a truly contemporary story with its sequelae still in the courts. It is the story of the sad and eventually violent dissolution of the relationship between the late interior designer Stuart Rattle and his killer, Michael O’Neill. The two seemed to have an idyllic personal and business relationship for 16 years.

Stuart Rattle was an obsessed designer to the Melbourne A list who lived the appropriate lifestyle with his clients while pouring his energies into a signature country retreat called Musk Farm. There, he and Michael divided their passions and interests in the house, gardens and livestock.

It must have seemed to many observers to be an ideal lifestyle for two talented creative gay men but there were always cracks and differences that opened wider and wider as the pair ignored their mounting problems which contaminated even their sex life and ended in an explosive, murderous outburst then subsided into lacerating self-pity on the part of Michael as he realised what he had done. His response in trying to deal with the situation through keeping his partner’s body isolated for five days before setting fire to the building and the remains, set him up for a legal response that was entirely predictable.

Psychological help enabled the legal processes to eventually gain some understanding of the lead-up to the tragic denouement but legal processes soon became entirely another long chapter in the tragedy. The condition of the wills drawn up by the two men was not good and the process of assigning beneficiaries was further complicated by the murderous nature of Stuart’s death. The process has been long, complicated and at times, bitter. The assets, while under demand for considerable sums have generated quite a lot of money. Musk Farm in Daylesford realised $1.59 million while 30 hectares of grazing land brought in $660,000 and the interior furnishings of the the farm a further $711,785. Recently, the renovated Rattle showroom and town apartment sold for more than $2 million. There is plenty to argue over.

Robin Bowles has written a number of crime related books but was, in this case, prevented from tapping the obvious main source through interviewing Michael O’Neill. However, she has done a good job of harvesting other primary sources (even when conflicting) and a range of relevant secondary sources.

Apart from being a sad read of a relationship that could, perhaps, have been rescued with more self-awareness and outside help (a lesson for gays and straights alike), the main lesson for gay men lies in the urgent need for clear and legally-binding estate planning whether single, in a committed relationship or married.

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