matthew condon, three crooked kings & jacks and jokers

Today’s guest post is from the criminally lovely Liz Barr.

Growing up in Brisbane in the ’90s, I was acutely aware of the Bjelke-Petersen era. Maybe because I had a political family — my conservative parents have only recently conceded that Joh’s government was not, in fact, the victim of a left wing plot — or because I read a lot of biographies of local musicians, and they all had memories of Cloudland and being hassled by the cops.

Now I live in Melbourne, but I still follow Queensland politics. Campbell Newman’s ongoing attempt to relive Joh’s glory days sparked an interest in Brisbane’s history of corruption, so I headed to the library and found Matthew Condon’s Three Crooked Kings and Jacks and Jokers.

And what a history it is. Condon follows the career of Terry Lewis, from his first days as a cop in the ’50s to his unexpected and dubious promotion to police commissioner in 1976. Along the way, we learn that there are all kinds of police corruption, from blackmailing young women known to have visited abortionists to taking payments and turning a blind eye towards illegal casinos and sex shops. Condon has spoken to Lewis himself at length, but keeps him at a distance, directing the reader’s attention to new twists on old lies.

The framing device — the murder of Shirley Brifman, a prostitute turned whistleblower and the rape of her daughter, both crimes committed by police officers — borders on the exploitative. But this is not a world that treats women well. Condon only foreshadows the terrible experiences of Lorelle Saunders, Queensland’s first female police detective, who was framed for attempted murder and spent ten months in jail, eventually placing herself in solitary confinement to escape the abuse of guards and prisoners. She was ultimately exonerated and reinstated — but the bulk of her story is reserved for the third book in Condon’s trilogy, due in 2015.

It’s a complex pair of books, with characters appearing for a few pages before vanishing again, to import drugs into Far North Queensland, or to fabricate evidence against a possible mass murderer, or to leak information to the press that leads to two people being murdered. A corrupt cop’s work is never done, and if the reader doesn’t pay attention, she’ll be lost. Wait, when did the bank-that-was-a-front-for-drug-importers-and-also-the-CIA turn up? Who owns that nightclub? Did student protesters really march all the way from St Lucia to the CBD?

Queensland has tried to shrug this history off, but you can catch glimpses here and there, of heritage buildings torn down in the middle of the night, the dodgy brothels that still exist in the Valley, in the way the police keep stopping my mum’s pastor as he rides his Harley to church. Condon demonstrates that the era of the Moonlight State was seedier, stranger and more shocking than anyone realised.

Arrested and charged with the trafficking of books. Charges dismissed after bribing the judge with some new releases. Small. Ginger. Enjoys history, cephalopods and tween media.

crime at the brisbane writers festival

Look I love Australia with all of my cold dead heart, but it’s unfair that sometimes fun things happen in cities that are not my own. And so it goes with the Brisbane Writers Festival, as long as I forget that the Melbourne Festival only just finished (as I write this on Sunday night, everyone involved is probably getting fervently hammered and then will be plagued with regrets as they get on planes to Brisbane tomorrow.)

Brisbane is next on the Festival calendar, and the program just looks ace. Here are the events I am going to go to via astral projection, which I better start believing in within the next 24 hours. For tickets and further info, click here and then go clicky on the crime topic.


Friday, September 6

10am: Stuart MacBride, Kenmore Library (free)

Scottish crime writer MacBride, who most recently penned Close to the Bone, will be chatting and signing books.

2pm: Matthew Condon, Queensland Terrace, State Library of Queensland (tickets $12-$16)

I’ve reviewed Condon’s wonderful and fun Toe Tag Quintet before, but here he discusses a more non-fiction side of crime: his book on corruption, Three Crooked Kings.

6:30pm: The Genre Ghetto, The Edge, State Library of Queensland (tickets $20-$25)

A celebration of genre, which should be celebrated because it’s great, from diverse authors like Matt Fraction, Sarah Wendell, Justine Larbalestier, Ben McKenzie, and crime author Stuart MacBride.


Saturday, September 7

10am: The Writer as Detective, Loris Williams Meeting Room, Kuril Dhagun, State Library of Queensland (Sold out, but it was $80-$90 so your bank account thanks you.)

A crime masterclass by Australian author Adrian McKinty. I would love to be all over this, as I really enjoyed I Hear the Sirens in the Street and I (like every other person who works in a bookshop) am currently writing the Great Australian (Crime) Novel. No tickets left, but hopefully some wisdom will be shared through the hive mind (i.e. Twitter.)

4pm: The Scene of the Crime, Queensland Terrace, State Library of Queensland (tickets $12-$16)

You can’t set every crime in the library with a candlestick, so where do you set it? Branch out with authors Angela Savage, author of The Dying Beach, along with Adrian McKinty and Stuart MacBride.

5:30pm: The Ned Kelly Awards, Maiwar Green, State Library of Queensland (free)

Squeak! Only the most exciting night for Australian crime, and this year in a sunny Brisbane location (current weather forecast for Saturday in stupid Melbourne is stupid rain.) The Awards include the Great Crime Debate, with Katherine Howell, Stuart MacBride, Matthew Condon, Jacqui Payne, Terry Hayes, Karina Cavalho and MCd by Jane Clifton. This should be a blast.


Sunday, September 8

11am: Adrian McKinty, Indooroopilly Library (free)

A signing and a chat with Adrian McKinty, author of the wonderful I Hear the Sirens on the Street, which I gushed over a bit here.

1pm: Stuart MacBride, Maiwar Green, State Library of Queensland (tickets $12-$16)

Stuart, who is apparently getting no sleep during this festival, will be discussing why it is that Scotland has so many great crime authors. I’ve never been, so I’m just going to assume the cold keeps people indoors where it’s easier to plot misdeeds.

2pm: Research for Crime Fiction, Bank of Queensland Heritage Collections Learning Room, State Library of Queensland (tickets $80-$90, but it goes for three hours)

Augh, research! So completely necessary, but how do you go about it? MacBride discloses his best techniques for researching your story: I especially like this part from the program guide: “He’ll tell you how to best locate crime experts for advice, and what to ask them when you do.” So, I guess, don’t walk up to police on the street and say, “If I want to shoot someone, what would kill them the slowest?”

3pm: Spoken, Red Box, State Library of Queensland (free)

Sisters in Crime: Queensland are holding a micro-fiction competition; here, with Katherine Howell, you’ll find out who won. I wonder if they’ll win a micro-wave, haha I kill me.


Monday, September 9

6pm: Adrian McKinty, Ipswich Library (I think) (free)

Another man who will probably need to spend the entire post-festival week sleeping, Adrian McKinty will talk and sign books and probably drink fifteen coffees.


If you go to any of these—I’d love to know how they went! Drop a line in the comments below. Feel free to comment if you just want to sigh about not going too.

review: matthew condon, toe tag quintet

Some people, upon their retirement, find they like to take up volunteer work, or perhaps golf, or perhaps some recreational cane-waving at young miscreants on their lawns. One particular ex-police officer decided to skip out of crime-filled Sydney to the luxurious and relaxing Gold Coast, only to find that he’s going to be shot at, strung up and generally embroiled in trouble more during his retirement than all his years on the force.

Condon’s unnamed hero is quick with a barb but a bit slow to get off a soft couch, and reading these five tales of crimes he is inadvertently embroiled in makes for quite the entertaining read. He hasn’t even moved in properly when the first problem arises—stuck in a caravan park searching for a home while his wife packs up their Sydney house, he encounters an old foe and ends up on an island being coshed on the head by a geriatric Russian man who may or may not possess some of Australia’s most expensive art. This is just the start of an all-out entertaining book that may just make you reconsider to retiring quietly to a witness protection program instead of Lakes Entrance.

You can read a chapter for free here. Ah, the wonders of technology.

A version of this review has appeared in the Readings Monthly.