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Posted on 12 Jun 2014 in Crime Scene |

Crime Scene: MATTHEW CONDON Jacks and Jokers: The extraordinary true story continues. Reviewed by Annette Hughes

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jacksnjokersThe saga of Queensland’s notorious decades of police corruption continues with Matthew Condon following the lives of key players as they seize control.

The searing and sensational sequel to Three Crooked Kings will only further stoke the fire of the average Queenslander’s burning desire to get to the bottom of the saga that was the backdrop to life there in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.

To recap the events of Three Crooked Kings: the cops who staged a coup against the heads of their chain of command are in control of the force,  except for the licensing branch, the most lucrative laugh of ‘the Joke’ (the euphemism for the corrupt cops’ share in illicit prostitution and gaming). Frank Bischof’s boys – the Rat Pack of Tony Murphy, Terry Lewis and the now civilian Glen Hallahan – have ousted Ray Whitrod’s forces of reform and transparency, and the force is now the strong arm of the Bjelke-Petersen regime.

This second book in Condon’s trilogy picks up the story in 1976 and narrates the rise and rise of Terry Lewis to become the ace in Joh Bjelke-Petersen’s pocket – a biddable commissioner of police – effectively turning Queensland into a police state. Lewis even manages to eventually get rid of the redoubtable Minister-For-Everything, Russ Hinze.

Jacks and Jokers opens with Terry Lewis about to be catapulted from exile in western Queensland, Commissioner of Police Murphy about to take control of the Joke and Hallahan, now retired from the force, beginning to realise the profits to be made from an emerging illicit drug trade. What had been only an internal coup is now dangerously close to a putsch, with a compliant Premier, a gutless coalition partner and a Cabinet infiltrated by corrupt ministers.

Gleaned from Lewis’s own meticulous – almost obsessive – diaries, the glaring omissions when compared with the now public record are noted by Condon with mischievous relish. For one so apparently anal about his records, Lewis has left some conspicuously gaping holes. For example, the shit is about to hit the fan as a result of the parliamentary response by Kevin Hooper, Opposition spokesman for police and prisons, to a denial by Hinze, then Minister for Police, that there are illegal casinos at Fortitude Valley. Hooper’s attack receives scant mention in Lewis’s diary.

Likewise, Lewis barely notices that, in the wake of the ABC Nationwide story by Allan Hall, which aired the statements of two ex-cop whistleblowers, it was clear that Hinze was presiding over a police department ‘deep in sin’. The whistleblowers, Fancourt and Campbell:

… claimed – with either breathtaking courage or naivety – that senior police were involved in the drug trade, illegal gambling and prostitution rackets, and were masterminding much of the state’s criminal activity.

Meanwhile, policewoman Lorelle Saunders is being stitched up with a bullshit murder charge:

Extraordinarily, Commissioner Lewis made not a single notation about the arrest of Saunders in his diaries. The first female detective in Queensland police force history is arrested for attempting to plot and murder a high-ranking police officer, and it didn’t warrant inclusion. 

What Lewis did was head out to Fig Tree Pocket ‘re function for Emperor of  Japan’s Birthday’.

Such omissions only make sense from the long view of Lewis’s selective memory. The reader has to question whether Lewis even understands the concept of corruption, and wonder where he drew the thin blue line between that and ‘helping out a mate’.

Condon wrestles a Medusa-head of writhing story lines and deftly presses them into place to tell this sweeping story of graft, corruption, and fear-and-loathing in the deep north. Apparently insignificant characters – prostitutes, gamblers and pimps – and the seemingly unrelated misfortunes that befall them, are expertly juxtaposed against major drug busts, mayhem and murder, all perfectly aligned and with just enough information forthcoming to keep the reader held by the discontinuous narrative pulse which, by the time of the 1980s, is racing towards the inevitable train wreck of the Fitzgerald Inquiry.

A fantastic fusion of Frank Moorhouse and Peter Corris, Jacks and Jokers is crime writing at its best – true or otherwise.

Matthew Condon Jacks and Jokers: The extraordinary true story continues UQP 2014 PB 388pp $29.95

Annette Hughes is a writer and the event manager of Reality Bites Festival 2014 in Cooroy. The festival program launches at the Cooroy library July 26 with John Birmingham in conversation with Matthew Condon. 

You can buy this book from Abbey’s at a 10% discount by quoting the promotion code NEWTOWNREVIEW here.

To see if it is available from Newtown Library, click here. SMSA members can check the Library here.