I’ve got a pile of books beside my now ancient and overheating tower unit: books I’ve read, books I thought I might write about, books I kind of hated. I haven’t written about them or put them away. For a while I consoled myself that this must be a little bit like the Plashing Vole’s desk but I suspect his books are of a better quality and he manages to be more orderly with them. At any rate I intend to power through this enormous pile with a high intensity rate of speed book reviewing, just like speed dating in that everything should end up back on the shelf by the end.
Matthew Condon is a good writer, he tells stories and can sometimes make them fly. Unfortunately Three Crooked Kings is not one of those. It is a good story, the police corruption and wanton decadence of Queensland in the sixties and seventies, covered over by the Bjelke-Petersen governments’ social conservatism. There’s a host of bad guys and bit players who smile as they take the cash and leave the soiled condom. Terry Lewis, Frank Herbert, Russ Hinze, Hallhan and Bischof: these are all wonderfully flawed fellows who didn’t do good. Then there is Shirley Brifman and her long career of grafting profit from fallibility. It’s a glorious miniseries of a tale, if it got the treatment.
But it doesn’t. Condon maps it out, pretty well, as if it was all on a white board. There is no spirit to it. There isn’t rage, there isn’t schadenfreude when they start to go down, there isn’t even a sense of voyeurism as it all gets written out. Perhaps because it tries to tell the corruption story instead of the justice story it gets very stilted, perhaps because it can’t endorse anything Three Crooked Kings doesn’t say anything at all.
The Fitzgerald Inquiry is genuinely fascinating and if you want a great read about the dark days of Queensland, the grinning menace of Joh and Terry, then check out Phil Dickie’s The Road to Fitzgerald and Beyond. It is the same story but with excitement, drive and a sense of justice, making it completely unlike Three Crooked Kings.