For readers of true crime and books such as See What You Made Me Do, a shocking and movingly told portrait of the murder of suburban mum Tara Costigan and an examination of why domestic violence affects us all

A triggering read.

Tara Costigan was the woman next door. A hard worker. Quick to laugh and easy to like. She was happy, confident, strong. A woman who always looked after herself and her kids. Close with her family and her friends, she was much loved. Then, in 2013, she met Marcus Rappel. A local tradie, he was charming and sincere, they dated and fell in love. That should have been the end of a happy-ever-after story. But for Tara, it was much uglier. And for her family it would be devastating. 

A year later, Tara was pregnant to Marcus. Her family had been worried for a while, but Tara didn’t tell anyone how Marcus’s jealousy was souring the relationship. She tried to keep it quiet. Despite everything, she never imagined he would be physically violent – he would never hurt her. 

Tara was wrong. One fine day, the last day of summer in 2015, she was holding their newborn baby in her arms when he attacked her with an axe. Her murder seemed to come out of the blue. But as this extraordinary, often shocking book reveals, it did not. 

The First Time He Hit Her is an attempt to understand why dozens of women are murdered each year by men who profess to love them.

Duffy’s thoughts on The First Time He Hit Her

The story of Tara Costigan is tragically not a rare one. So far in 2020 according to Counting Dead Women, 28 Australian women have died at the hands of violence by July 2.

In Australia, one woman every week is killed by a current or former partner. One in three women and one in five men have experienced at least once incident of violence from a current or former partner since the age of 15.

How many of these statements have you heard your friends and family say over the years?

“It’s ok, he doesn’t hit me, he just loses it sometimes.”

“It’s because he loves me, he worries about me driving home, he wanted to make sure I was leaving on time.”

“I feel a bit uncomfortable, but he likes me to wear my hair this way …..”

“He cheated again, but I know he’s sorry this time, he says it’s because I’m….”

“Yeah, it got really bad, but he said it’s my fault, I wind him up”

“I pushed the chair up against the door so I could sleep, he wouldn’t do anything I know it, but I needed to sleep..”

“It’ll get better, I love him so much.”

I’ve heard all of these things. Some of these statements have come out of my own mouth over the years in different relationships. I thought the same as Tara, that things wouldn’t get ‘that bad’. I’m alive and she isn’t.

Heidi Lemon hasn’t produced a man-hating manifesto against men. Instead, Lemon is trying to make sense of this harrowing event and the disturbing effects left on Tara Costigan’s family and children. She is also trying to understand where it all went wrong for Marcus Rappel. You see, until the moment Marcus Rappel put an axe in the back of Tara Costigan, there were flickering moments where he knew he needed help, where he knew he was out of control. Visits to Drs, mental health support and frantic calls to his sister. It is this perspective which makes The First Time He Hit Her unique.

The First Time He Hit Her is a tough read, but one that needs to be read by all kinds of people. You see, when a woman’s life is taken by violence, there are also jagged rocks thrown at the already battered and broken family and friends involved.

There are those who carry the guilt for the perpetrator. Who tried so hard to get a brother, father, mother, uncle help which wasn’t enough. The sense of failure and shame was profoundly affecting to me. Some encouraged a separation, a rescue, a conversation, or text message, which on reflection adds to the spectre of impending darkness inching closer to take a life.

It’s a triggering read which I had to put down a few times to take a breather. I wanted so badly for the outcome to be different, as the timeline builds and the grim picture of what is come unfolds on the page, I wanted Tara to still be able to hug her boys and cradle her daughter.

Heidi Lemon interviews those who were affected by the murder of Tara Costigan on both sides of the fence with sensitivity and carefully considered journalism. Slowly teasing out the tiny moments, when which woven together, created a catastrophe.

Lemon has also taken the time to explore domestic violence. Just how many women are killed by a spouse or family member who had never exhibited physical abuse before? Why do some murders of women make the headlines and some not? Is the law there to keep vulnerable women safe, or are DVO’s a trigger, the lit touch paper of a violent episode?

However, real-life is really shit at times and can sometimes end in a shocking, yet all too common tragedy. The First Time He Hit Her is an amazing debut book and I know that this book and Tara will stay with Heidi Lemon forever.

The First Time He Hit Her by Heidi Lemon is published by Hachette and available at Booktopia and all good bookstores

Pick this up to read if you love true crime or books like Eggshell Skull