UNDERBELLY: SQUIZZY - Andy Muir
Up front, didn't watch the Underbelly TV series on Squizzy Taylor, mostly because we don't watch a lot of commercial TV anyway, but really because I had the book and I prefer to keep the two separate wherever possible. This time around I suspect that might have been a mistake as I'm not sure that I got as much from the book as I could have combining it with the show.
This is also not the first Film / TV / Squizzy connection book I've read. The first was so long ago I can't remember when it was, but I do distinctly remember the book. And Squizzy obviously. Squizzy Taylor is a bit of a criminal legend in Victoria. A dandy, bootlegger, a person who appeared to compensate for a short physical stature with a rather large amount of ruthless viciousness. Which I'm not sure came across quite as obviously as you'd expect in this book. It's also a rather condensed version of some of the nefarious goings on, and the racketeering and general mayhem committed during that time. That part not being quite so hard to fathom. It's a book, not an entire collection of the Life, Times and Horribleness of Squizzy Taylor after all.
Reading something like this, in amongst a series of other fictional books about current day gangsters, made for a little bit of a surreal experience. Whilst some of the fictional books seemed discomfortingly real, somehow UNDERBELLY SQUIZZY was slightly more theatrical, less real. Perhaps that's partly because of the separation of time from when it was all happening, maybe it was because somehow, sneakingly, there's a bit of the folklore "hero" about Squizzy.
If you really enjoyed the UNDERBELLY TV show on Squizzy then the book will be a good companion for it. A reality check perhaps, slightly less glamorous and without the visuals of the TV show. I'm acutely aware that my somewhat reserved reaction to the book is conflicted and slightly irrational. It's not a new thing, this idea that so many of our early day "heros" were in fact shocking villains, who in their day were feared, cruel and mercenary. I'm not sure this book reminds the reader of that quite as strongly as it could do, but then personally, I like the idea of a national hero being a horse more and more the older I get.
In the 1920s, Squizzy Taylor was a household name for all the wrong reasons - armed robbery, fraud, sly grog and prostitution rackets, race fixing, extortion, jury rigging and illegal gambling. Squizzy was a dandy, a bootlegger and Melbourne's most notorious criminal. From 1915 to 1927 he and his gang waged open warfare against their rivals across Melbourne.
Underbelly: Squizzy tells the epic story of Squizzy Taylor's relentless quest for power and recognition, a quest that ultimately created our first celebrity gangster. Among those who really knew him - the women in his life and the members of his gang - Squizzy left a trail of misery and heartache, but in the end he got what he wanted. People still remember his name.
Underbelly: Squizzy is based on the major TV miniseries, produced by Screentime for Channel Nine.