Jennifer (JC-S)'s Reviews > Angel of Death: Dulcie Markham, Femme Fatale of the Australian Underworld

Angel of Death by Leigh Straw
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‘Dulcie May Markham was the glamour woman of Australian crime, known on the streets as ‘Pretty Dulcie’.’

Dulcie May Markham (27 February 1914 – 20 April 1976) was a key figure in the underworlds of Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane during the period between the early 1930s to the mid-1950s. She also visited Perth. During this period, she had close to 100 convictions with offences ranging from driving without a licence, drunkenness, prostitution and vagrancy. But unlike many of her associates, Dulcie Markham survived to live a quieter life.

I picked up this book after reading Ms Straw’s book about Lillian Armfield (‘Lillian Armfield: How Australia’s First Female Detective took on Tilly Devine and the Razor Gangs and Changed the Face of the Force’) published in 2018. I’d read about Dulcie Markham elsewhere as well: most true crime books about the Sydney underworld during the period between 1920 and 1950 have references to ‘The Angel of Death’, ‘The Black Widow’ and ‘Pretty Dulcie’. I was intrigued and interested in learning more.

Ms Straw writes of a setting which I recognise from other true crime books, and of characters whose names have become familiar. But I gained no real sense of the woman behind the façade. Dulcie Markham rarely spoke to reporters and left no personal records. Dulcie Markham’s life is (partly) known through official records: her birth, her court appearances, her convictions, her death. Dulcie ran away from home aged 15 and became a prostitute. Her first appearance in court was in 1931 when, aged 17, she was called to give evidence at the inquest into the death of a lover by another lover. This was to be the first of five deaths of Dulcie’s husbands or lovers. Little wonder that she became known as ‘The Angel of Death’.

Reading this book reinforced what I knew about Sydney’s criminal underworld during this period, and it provided a context for Dulcie Markham’s life. As Ms Straw writes:

‘Women lead complex, diverse and varied lives. Dulcie Markham epitomises the girl who refuses to fit in, the young woman with a drug problem who seeks solace in people she thinks can protect her, the sex worker who sees herself as a representation of femininity and not a fall from it, and the resilient woman who after all her years of living a life ‘on the wrong side of the tracks’ decides to get out and lead a quieter existence.’

For me, the real strength of this book is the context Ms Straw provides for Dulcie Markham’s life.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

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Reading Progress

September 13, 2019 – Started Reading
September 13, 2019 – Shelved
September 13, 2019 – Shelved as: australian-womens-writers-challenge
September 17, 2019 – Finished Reading

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