Sandra Pankhurst, subject of The Trauma Cleaner Photo by David Caird
Sarah Krasnostein’s The Trauma Cleaner: One Woman’s Extraordinary Life in the Business of Death, Decay and Destruction is a biographical portrait of a complicated woman. Sandra Pankhurst runs a trauma cleaning service in suburban Melbourne. She and her crew clean up bloody crime scenes, death scenes and cases of extreme squalor (think A&E’s Hoarders). While Sandra’s life in this business is interesting material in and of itself, the book is really about who Sandra is and has been throughout her often pain-filled life. The thread that runs through the book is compassion, both for others and for ourselves, even when compassion is difficult to give.
There are the tried and true staples of true crime, like Vincent Bugliosi and Curt Gentry’s Helter Skelter and Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood. Most crime aficionados have read these, or at least heard of them. They’re the books that made the deadly crimes they cover household knowledge. They successfully weave a specific kind of cultural narrative around the gruesome events at their centers.