Book review: Three Crooked Kings

BOOK: Three Crooked Kings
AUTHOR: Matthew Condon
RRP: $29.95

FOR those of us who grew up in Queensland in the 1960s and 1970s, the revelations in Matthew Condon's Three Crooked Kings might come as quite a surprise.

Brisbane for many of us country boys was an awesome place full of glitz and glamour, marvellous sporting venues and crowds of people.

Sadly, beneath the surface, it was also full of corrupt cops who thrived on prostitution protection rackets and looking after underworld mates.

We shouldn't be surprised by the revelations in Condon's excellent treatment of a time when policing in the Sunshine State was much different to what it is today.

Unfortunately, for many of us, the depth of insidious, institutionalised corruption still comes as quite a shock.

Condon's book relies heavily on the meticulous diaries of former Police Commissioner Terry Lewis who was part of the Rat Pack of senior officers including Glen Hallahan and Tony Murphy who were under the guiding influence of then Police Commissioner Frank Bischoff.

They were policemen of their times, using prostitutes and their clients as sources of information and hanging around dubious places where police methods crossed a dangerous line. Many were taking backhanders from the women as a form of protection.

Three Crooked Kings follows Lewis' journey through the ranks.

The alleged suicide of prostitute and brothel madam Shirley Brifman in the early 1970s provided the turning point for a culture that reigned unchecked for several decades.

It was part of a grand narrative teeming with murder, pay-offs, political machinations, drug heists, assisted suicides, police in-fighting and a complicated system of corruption that ultimately collapsed under its own weight.

Based on unprecedented interviews with Terry Lewis and access to his personal papers, Three Crooked Kings is the missing piece that puts the whole story in context.

Condon has crafted the definitive account of an era that changed Queensland society; an impact that reverberates across the country to this day.

This book is well worth a read, particularly for those who lived through the era and for those who want to see what can happen when weak politicians allow corruption to prosper.

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