I have just finished reading "Three Crooked Kings" by Matthew Condon. I can't wait to start on the sequel " All Fall Down" and the questions going through my head are plentiful. If the police were corrupt then, what has changed? Who were the ones caught out in the end? Who paid a price, how many more murders and cover ups took place within the state to ensure that corrupt systems continued uninterrupted?
Matthew Condon has written an explosive account of corruption in the Queensland police force and he took his story from some time back going to the 50s, 60s and 70s, to give us a full picture of the personalities involved. He exposes the underworld of Brisbane and its characters in a book which makes gripping reading. Make no mistake though this is not a fictional crime thriller but a chilling account of how corrupt and tainted a large part of the Queensland police was during those years. He follows the course of Terry Lewis one of the so-called "Rat Pack" as he climbs the ranks within the police force. Together with senior officers Glen Hallahan and Tony Murphy they were the trusted collaborators of Frank Bischoff who was then Commissioner of the Police Force. Three Crooked Kings exposes the workings of all three, their taking of money for protection, known as the "Joke", the use of prostitutes as informants, and their associations with them, their frequenting of watering holes and nightclubs full of the underworld at that time.
The story, because it reads like one, is written in a journalistic style. There are no embellishments here, no flowery descriptions, no literary turns of phrase. One statement follows another like night follows day, stated dispassionately to the reader. There are always questions and cliff hangers at the end of every chapter which of course have the desired effect of making you to know more, to read on, to acquaint yourself, mercifully only through print, with some of the unsavoury characters that clearly roamed the streets and controlled much of the businesses, legal and illegal, from which they extracted protection money. It does leave you a little aghast and then you begin to wonder whether this was peculiar to the times, this is what happened then, this was the way police officers supplemented their perhaps meagre wages, this is the way they controlled people and rose through the ranks. Or that they were unprincipled and unscrupulous and just plain greedy, failings which might arise just as easily today as then, except that now I suspect there are a lot more checks and balances in place to prevent such systems ever happening again. Most of them in those days entered the police force with nothing more than a high school diploma. It was however not unusual to earn promotions and rewards through sheer years of service and hard work, even if some of that work was often not within the realms of what police officers were ever expected to be caught doing.
These are real people with real families who lived in the good suburbs of Brisbane and drank at well known watering holes like the National Hotel. We see their development from innocent and unhappy teenagers, delinquent youths, pretty girls and ambitious young men to lives full of deceit, corruption, prostitution and abuse. Inevitably some did not live long to tell their tales, while others survived against all odds, even when others were out to get them. The threats, the games, the expectations were all played out in the streets of Brisbane and there is a huge amount of work involved in bringing it all together in a form which is both readable and informative. Matt Condon surely spent years looking through the records and interviewing personalities. Checking the facts must have been as difficult and complex as the subject matter, as his long list of acknowledgements shows. The result is a book which is a must read for anyone who is interested in knowing what this city was like, through the accounts of journalists and reporters at the time as well as those who were willing to put their life on the line by talking about the secrets only they knew.