Looking back at the public persona of Mark 'Chopper' Read, so much of what Adam Shand discusses in THE REAL CHOPPER was there for the seeing. Can't help but give you a sneaking sense of admiration for Read's skill as a myth maker, given how unlikely many of his alleged transgressions actually were.
Read has always been an interesting prospect. Somebody with enough gangster profile to titillate and amuse some sectors of the community, he was renowned as a walking underworld quotation for the media. A thorn in the side of the underworld he claimed to be a big pin in, he was a criminal, a self-confessed police informer, and a man gifted with the ability to spin a great yarn. One of his greatest skills seems to have been remembering the tales of others, and then reinventing them to build his own persona. It also seems that he was no fool, and sadly somebody who should have had other options. Definitely, the success of his books, and the building of the myth, seems to be in direct contrast to his (and their) reception in the world of publishing, law enforcement and the Underworld. Nobody could ever deny his ability to craft a living from the myth that's for sure, even though his ability to hang onto money was considerably less successful.
THE REAL CHOPPER goes right back to the start - his life as a child with a distant and cold mother and an oddly "involved" father, a lot of strange things happened in Read's childhood and teenage years. From being put into a care home as a young child, through to being committed by his mother, and onto his teenage years rampaging around Croydon and environs there's something inevitable about his path from Juvenile Detention to jail. Whilst the crimes he was jailed for seem strangely minor compared to the things he claimed to have done, Chopper was fond of confessing, as he was making daft choices in jail, making sure his time was extended or done in the hardest possible manner. It's hard to decide what Chopper ultimately achieved in life. The build up as a major player in the Underworld might have fed his need for his 15 minutes of fame, but the collateral damage is high. Maybe in some circles, he died as the ultimate gangster player, but he still died. Youngish, ill, and still trying to shore up the story / the myth - with a hint of regret.
Shand's book reads like it has been carefully constructed - part investigation, part analysis it avoids overt conclusion drawing or over-blowing the story. Nor is it an apology or a justification. There's even some rather wry observations of the author's own past behaviour where Chopper was concerned, and there's a distinction drawn between Mark Brandon Read and, for want of a better description, the "Brand Chopper".
More than just a book for "fans" of Chopper, or for those who may have enjoyed the Chopper books that were around a few years ago (although people who read and enjoyed those would do well to have a look at this). THE REAL CHOPPER actually has a lot to say about the making of celebrity, and myths and legends. It's a particularly salutary tale when you look at what passes for a lot of "popular culture" these days.