When nine year old Samantha Knight was abducted from Bondi Road in 1986, Sydney reacted with a frantic search for any trace of the missing schoolgirl. Tips flooded in to police who pursued many avenues of inquiry, but ultimately failed to find her.
It took 16 years for some sort of justice to be obtained. The case “officially” ended with a plea of manslaughter from known paedophile, Michael Guider. He was allowed to plea to manslaughter despite the fact that he refused to tell the police where her body lay. Samantha, he claimed, was given an overdose of sleeping drug (in preparation of his abusing her). He was sentenced to only 12-17 years.
This is essentially where the story in Forever Nine by Denise Hoffman and John Kidman takes off as co-author and one-time friend of Guider, Denise Hoffman, attempts to get him to reveal where her body is hidden. Working for the police, Hoffman pretends to want to renew their rather fleeting relationship as bush surveyors.
It culminates in her wearing a wire to prison visits with Guider. But he is a remorseless narcissist and in a child-like manner, refuses to play the game. This book is a well-paced narrative of Samantha’s disappearance, although the authors do not seem to have had much access to the family. The authors make a compelling circumstantial case for Guider’s guilt, although the decisive physical link in the evidence (such as DNA) is missing.
The story does not quite hold its momentum when it gets to the tete-a-tete between Guider and Hoffman. It seems a bit perverse that he is getting so much attention (which is what he craves) when it is clear that he will not give up his secrets so long as he can string Hoffman along. This is not a criticism of their attempts, as they have the best intentions of finding Samantha.
The reader can empathise with their frustration and disappointment. Perhaps the most chilling part of the case is that with a conviction for manslaughter, Guider could be out of jail sooner rather than later. This is a very well written and gripping true crime book, that will definitely leave an enduring image of Samantha Knight’s tragic story, as well as the hope that someday she may be returned to her family.