Subtitled My Father, Abe Saffron GENTLE SATAN is the story of Alan Saffron - the son of Sydney's "Mr Sin" from the '60s and '70s. The book does promise to tell some tales of his notorious father, and whilst there is some skirting around the subject, it is probably most notable for what it doesn't, rather than what it does tell.
It's obviously not easy being the son of a notorious, flamboyant, controlling and overwhelming man. It's also obviously not easy being the wife of an openly unfaithful, controlling and overwhelming man. But at the heart of this book there's something really odd going on. On one hand Abe Saffron, would have seemed to be a cruel individual. His open humiliation of his wife and his son seems to have been vicious and quite cold. On the other hand there's a wife who won't leave him under any circumstances, who ties his shoelaces and brushes his hair for him - staying because of love and faithfulness. A son who can't separate himself from his father despite a series of attempts - working for a wage when Abe wanted him counting the money, heading for America to get away from the control. But under the protestations of the author's desire to keep away there is the money - Abe Saffron had a lot of it and he used it well to control his family, his businesses, his corrupt contacts - he used it to shore up his position.
Mindful that this is the story of somebody's life - told by that person, it's an unpleasant feeling to have to say that the book was an unrewarding / uninteresting read. There's something slightly offputting about the tone, the understandable sides being taken, both of which not being confidently supported by the actions being described. The book is told from a very personal point of view, but, for the non-involved reader, there are too many elements which don't come across as clear cut as the author obviously sees things. Having said that, it's not the story of Abe Saffron - it's the story of Abe's son. Whilst there are oblique references to highly illegal and irregular activities on the part of his father and there is a coy explanation of why threats to name names were dodged when the book was published; the book never does more than skirt close to the deep water of Abe Saffron, staying mostly in the shallows of Alan's own life. One thing that can be gleaned is an ambiguous understanding of the author's relationship with his own father - a desperate desire to get away / a willingness to accept the financial support / to seek the personal affirmation.
Perhaps that's the story of the whole book and the hint as to what Abe Saffron's legacy within his family was.