Review - THE REAL CHOPPER, Adam Shand

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The Real Chopper
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Book Synopsis

Read was a rogue, but he never enjoyed enough success to be a real villain for the public. So he invented it. His ‘victims’ were other social outcasts, faceless drug dealers, paedophiles and crooks that the world was better off without. ‘Uncle Chop-Chop’ became a superhero for his times...

He had convinced us that he did it all for us.

Finally, the whole truth about Australia's most famous stand-over man, Mark Brandon 'Chopper' Read: murderer, performer, poet, author, artist, winemaker and larger-than-life character.

Bestselling author and investigative journalist Adam Shand has been writing about Melbourne’s underworld for over a decade. He knows all of the main players in this world and has watched the extraordinary events of Melbourne's gangland war unfold from up close.

In The Real Chopper, Adam leaves no stone unturned in his quest to find out what is real and what was manufactured by Chopper for the sake of a good story. Shand uses police and prison records and interviews with those who were close to him, behind bars and outside. Now Chopper is dead, people are willing to talk on record.

Mark 'Chopper' Read was Australia's most popular notorious criminal. Read's fame spread in the 1990s with the success of his 11 semi-autobiographical novels, and he was immortalised in 2000 by Eric Bana's portrayal of him in the movie Chopper. At various times, Read claimed to be involved in the killing of 19 people and the attempted murder of 11 others. In an interview with the New York Times, Read revised the number to 'probably about four or seven, depending on how you look at it'.

In this definitive book, Shand immerses himself in the story, meeting an intriguing cast of Chopper's support acts along the way. He examines how Chopper built himself into a legend and inhabited the persona he created.

Book Review

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.

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