It’s a broad sweep of a story, taking place from the 1940s to the 1980s. It has a cast of complex and fascinating characters – a charismatic but crooked police commissioner, a commissioner in the making who rises quietly through the ranks with his eye on the plum job, a corrupt police force who not only turns a blind eye to crime but instigates it, a prostitute who’s the confidante of some of the most powerful and amoral police officers, a hardworking lawyer who goes into politics vowing to expose the corruption and a large supporting cast from petty criminals to politicians.
And what is so amazing is that it’s a true story. The book is Three Crooked Kings, the saga of Queensland and half a century of corruption in the corridors of power that culminated in The Fitzgerald Inquiry into police corruption of 1987 – 1989.
The author, award-winning journalist and novelist Matthew Condon, had unprecedented access to the dairies and personal papers of deposed and jailed police commissioner Terry Lewis, as well as interviews with hundreds of key players. He’s done an excellent job of crafting his research into a very readable and entertaining book.
Despite the inevitable facts and figures he never once descends into dry reportage, with the backdrop of the growth of Brisbane and the rapidly changing society. He’s quoted as saying that he initially wondered how he could combine all these characters and information into a coherent story, until he decided to write it as he would a novel. It was the right decision, as the narrative flows easily and seamlessly from one era to the next.
The book was especially interesting to me, as I was born and brought up in Queensland and it was fascinating to read about all the things that were happening in the echelons of power that I was blissfully unaware of in my childhood. When an event was mentioned, I put it in the context of my own life, thinking back to where I was living and what I was doing at the time. I lived in Brisbane as a teenager and young adult, so many of the places mentioned are familiar to me. It’s strange to think of the many times I frequented the National Hotel and never knew it was the scene of prostitution and illegal after hours drinking involving high-ranking police.
The backbone of the book is the life and rise of Terry Lewis to police commissioner. He has always maintained his innocence of any wrongdoing, referring to his trial and imprisonment for corruption as a ‘travesty of justice.’ Condon presents a balanced and objective view, providing many sides to each story, which often include conflicting evidence and witnesses. He raises questions that remain unanswered and points out discrepancies, but leaves it up to the reader to draw his or her own conclusions.
This book is the first of a trilogy. The second, called Jacks and Jokers, due out early next year, will continue the story with events leading up to the Fitzgerald Inquiry, Terry Lewis’s fall from grace and his imprisonment. Although these books may be primarily of interest to Australians and in particular, Queenslanders, this chronicle of corruption could have taken place in any country – after all, it’s about the universal human quest for power and influence, and everything that goes with it – ambition, love, revenge, loyalty and betrayal.
Three Crooked Kings is available as an e-book on Amazon here or at your local bookstore. (Although it’s so popular that my local bookstore has sold out).
If you read Three Crooked Kings, or a similar book that kept you up reading way past your bedtime, I’d love to hear your comments.
Robin Storey is an Australian author from the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia. She is a certified book nerd and has no weird hobbies or unusual pets.