Launch by Maggie Baron (former forensic scientist): 6 for 6.30pm Wednesday 20 June
Review - To Hell and Back, Carolyn Pethick
'To Hell and Back' is a memoir detailing one policewoman’s trials and tribulations working within the ranks of the Victoria Police Force from the early 1980’s to the present day. Despite numerous instances of harassment, false accusations and character assassinations, the member still manages to maintain her sanity and perform her policing duties to the best of her ability. Ultimately, this is a story about one person’s struggle to say and do the right thing, to follow procedure, no matter what the eventual cost to herself or her career.
A policewoman's story of discrimination, bullying and harassment. Incredibly difficult subject matter, relating a very personal experience. Equally one can imagine that it would have been a difficult, although hopefully cathartic experience, relating the events Carolyn Pethick outlines in TO HELL AND BACK.
I've had many goes at writing something about this book until it finally dawned on me - I can't review a story like this / I'm not comfortable rating something this personal. Whether or not it was an enjoyable, informative or difficult experience reading it, is nothing compared to the author's aim in writing it.
Review - The Squad, Yoni Bashan
A gritty and compelling account of an elite police group, the Middle Eastern Organised Crime Squad (MEOCS).
Sydney Daily Telegraph crime reporter Yoni Bashan has obviously used some insider knowledge of his own, alongside that of members of the Middle Eastern Organised Crime Squad (MEOCS) to craft a true crime book that's very readable, informative and surprisingly moving in places.
The subject matter is unpleasant obviously - with an intermingling of families and organised crime activities that covers drugs, murders and some brutal turf wars. The Squad is a highly specialised police unit tasked with an incredibly difficult job - investigating the crimes, identifying the perpetrators and ensuring convictions in a highly charged, dangerous environment. There's inter-generational feuding, and a closed society which is incredibly difficult for them to penetrate and a group of criminals that never rat out their own, or the opposition.
Told from the point of view of the police, THE SQUAD is well paced, written in a very readable style, engaging and involving without being sensationalised or overtly moralistic. It's a warts and all "what it is, is what it is" style of tale of a group of cops who take their responsibilities very seriously indeed. There's plenty of background to the formation of The Squad within the pages, and some of the political / on-high pressure that they deal with as well, all of which combined to make THE SQUAD very interesting reading indeed.
Review - Planet Jackson, Brad Norington
Kathy Jackson was hailed as a heroine for blowing the whistle on the million-dollar fraud of Michael Williamson, the corrupt boss of the Health Services Union. While remaining steadfast in this very public ordeal, she endured bitter personal attacks from enemies in the Labor Party and the union movement.
But what if Jackson was just as corrupt as Williamson? Or worse?
This is the real HSU story. The unbelievable misuse of the union dues of some of the lowest paid workers in Australia.
When Kathy Jackson was revealed as the whistle-blower on million-dollar fraud in the Health Services Union it's hard to believe she couldn't have foreseen her own fate. Even after reading PLANET JACKSON it's still impossible to believe that somebody with their own snout so deeply in the trough of union funds could not have seen that her own behaviour would be revealed.
Allowing for the slightly anti-union whiff about this book, it's an appalling story, detailed and frankly gobsmacking. Much, quite rightly, has been made about the millions of dollars ripped out of a union representing some of the lowest paid workers in Australia, but officials of any organisation with such a blatant disregard for other people's money, for propriety and for decent and lawful behaviour should be outed and punished accordingly. The fact that in this case those sorts of people were also mixing in the upper stratosphere of political circles as well seems to go a long way towards explaining the general contempt that many have for so-called "leaders" in some sections of the community these days.
The story in PLANET JACKSON is appalling. This woman and her like are appalling. The book is interesting, although there's something slightly off-putting about the anti-union subtext. This particular incident occurred within a union - there are plenty of other examples of self-serving, greedy, white-collar criminals - it's not just a "union" thing.
Review - Mayhem, Matthew Thompson
Meet BADNE$$. He's the enigmatic, impulsive, exasperating, destructive, big-hearted Aussie outlaw who stole millions of dollars in daring bank robberies and became a folk hero as big as Ned Kelly when he masterminded two spectacular prison breaks in the space of six weeks.
There's absolutely no doubt that author Matthew Thompson intended MAYHEM to be a fast paced, gonzo styled expose of Australian outlaw Christopher Binse. If you like that style, then the problems telling where the myth of Binse's own making ends, and the recounting starts might not be so concerning. For this reader there seemed to be some self-awareness issues, with Binse and the author, coming across as number 1 subscribers to the myth they were attempting to build.
I will admit that I was over the idea of Binse's hard man reputation when the blame for everything bad that ever happened to him came down to the women in his life. It wasn't helped by the feeling that somehow this was a "naughty little boy" and that everything would have been just okay if somebody else had stopped him. Nor was it clear that there was any awareness that his father came across as a complete waste of space, and whilst some early intervention in the justice system might have derailed the worst of the behaviour, trying to make out that Binse is an exasperating, big-hearted "Aussie outlaw" was frankly frustrating and annoying.
Either way, the style of the book was slightly too "reverential" for this reader's liking. It seemed too focused on the myth, and not enough on the reality of who Binse is and what he did. Whilst they might have had a go at redemption, at no stage did Binse ever really seem like the "tortured soul" of the blurb. Rather the whole thing felt like a transparent reputation construction, and an attempt to turn a thug into some sort of "misunderstood hero". There's nothing much in this story that seems in any way educational for any wild children of the future, and a lot that serves as a tutorial in how to blame everybody else if they do get into trouble.
Review - The Good Cop, Justine Ford
'A - Assume nothing. B - Believe nothing. C - Check everything.' Ron Iddles
In an incredible twenty-five year career as a homicide detective, Ron Iddles' conviction rate was 99%. Yet that only partly explains why Iddles is known to cops and crims alike as 'The Great Man'.
I will admit to being mightily intrigued by this biography mostly because of the reputation of the subject. Ron Iddles is well known in Victoria as a dedicated cop, a champion of the victims of murder, and a dedicated and dogged investigator who never said never on any case.
This is a man who has lead a worthwhile public / working life. There are aspects in THE GOOD COP that explain what sacrifices he and his family have made in the pursuit of that career much of which serves as a very hefty reminder of the old chestnut, behind many great men... The book takes readers back through some of the family background and possible motivations for Iddles joining the police force, and it gives the occasional insight into what continued to drive him to solve the seemingly unsolvable. It also showed very clearly that the man was also susceptible to burnout, of turning to driving trucks as a way of clearing his head of the horrible things he dealt with in the day job.
Unfortunately, THE GOOD COP, doesn't feel like it does Ron Iddles justice. For such a strong story there was something in the style of the writing in this book that was too flat and bland with a strange, almost passive voice. What short sharp bursts of over the top hero worship there are, were quickly followed by repetitive chunks of uninteresting, sticky prose which didn't engage this reader at all.
In the end, THE GOOD COP was disappointing. An interesting personal story, not well served by a decidedly lack-lustre telling.
Review - Mrs Kelly: The Astonishing life of Ned Kelly's mother, Grantlee Kieza
Ellen Kelly was born during the troubles in Ireland. When she arrived in Melbourne in 1841 aged nine, British convict ships were still dumping their unhappy cargo in what was then known as the colony of New South Wales. When she died at the age of 91 in 1923, having outlived seven of her 12 children, motor cars plied the highway near her bush home north of Melbourne, and Australia was a modern sovereign nation.
A sensationalised combination of fact, speculation, assumption and extremely over the top fictionalisation, MRS KELLY by Grantlee Kieza is a grand undertaking that seems to be telegraphing a lot more than it actually delivers.
If it was called a story of the Kelly Family, including some speculation about Ellen herself, then it might be more satisfying, but to flag it as "The Astonishing life of Ned Kelly's mother" and then contribute a lot of conjecture and bizarre fictionalisation to what little there is on her in a massive tome is somewhat misleading and therefore more than a bit irritating. Especially as it doesn't take a genius to figure out there was likely to be a paucity of detailed information about her own life, what with a tendancy for history to concentrate on men's lives and experiences.
Even allowing some leeway in assuming that you really can't write anything about the Kelly family, without revisiting the story of Dan and Ned in particular, there's undoubtedly some benefit in revisiting the family circumstances, perhaps casting some light on the why's behind the families trenchant and violent opposition to authority. And there are hints of Ellen and the boys father's background that give rise to small pockets of understanding on that. Unfortunately though, the style of MRS KELLY is popular history - that sort of mucking about in the facts, filling in gaps with much colourful scenery, assumption and glorified "thought" bubbles. A style that's not without its successes, although it should be tempered always with some pretty clear declaration about what is known and what is assumed surely. Having said that, making the whole thing into a rip-roaring readable sort of a yarn also helps, and somehow that isn't ever quite achieved with MRS KELLY as it just sort of wandered towards the inevitable conclusion, bringing with it more than a sniff of disapproval of the Kelly's, their stance and their life choices.
It's hard not suspect that the author of this undertaking feels more sympathy for the forces of law and order in this story, as opposed to the Kelly's, which after all, had it's roots in some pretty horrendous treatment of people prior to resettlement in Australia and beyond.
All of which means that MRS KELLY didn't quite ring true on a number of levels for this reader. It's a highly fictionalised version of events, and there's more than a sneaking suspicion that the desired outcome was not to cast light on both sides of the Kelly's situation. Of course, there's no argument that what the Kelly brothers did was appalling, but there's always been much in terms of mitigating circumstances to consider - seen all too fleetingly in MRS KELLY.
Ultimately though to make Ellen a supporting character in her own biography seems like yet another reason why you'd be very entitled to be more than a bit miffed with the way the world treats you.
Busted, Keith Moor
Bestselling writer and organised-crime expert Keith Moor takes us behind the headlines of the world's biggest seizure of ecstasy to expose a sophisticated mafia network in Australia.
In 2007, Melbourne customs officials intercepted 15 million ecstasy tablets hidden in 3000 tomato tins arriving from Naples, Italy – the largest haul of ecstasy in the world. The seized pills had a street value of $440 million.
Slightly fuzzy focus as it moves from the gang behind the haul, the ecstasy haul itself and then into much more info about the Calabrian mafia. Not 100% convinced by the style of storytelling which is very disjointed and frequently disorientating.
Into the Darkness, Robin Bowles
On 2 December 2010, the body of a 24-year-old woman was found at the bottom of the rubbish chute in the luxury Balencea tower apartments in St Kilda Road, Melbourne, twelve floors below the apartment she had shared with her boyfriend, Antony Hampel.
Within minutes, the sound of sirens filled the hall as police cars from the nearby police station filled the front forecourt in response to the day manager‘s call. So began the so-called investigation into the sudden death of a young woman called Phoebe Handsjuk.
Interesting case, with a fair recall of the facts / conclusions left to the reader, not well-served by the authors constant pushing of themselves into the narrative for no apparent reason.
The Ethics of Evil: Stories of H Division, Ray Mooney
This non-fiction book explores the true story of H Division, the punishment division within Pentridge Prison, Melbourne, that operated from 1958-1994, which was responsible for cultivating criminals who committed horrific crimes upon their release.
Established in 1958 to punish prisoners like William O’Meally, the last man legally flogged in Australia, H Division, or Hell Division as it became known, established a culture so ferocious, in 1972 the Victorian Government was forced to hold an inquiry into the brutality.
Unfortunately, regardless of the sense of righteous anger about the treatment of prisoners within the walls of Pentridge Prison, this account doesn't do the outrage a service. It's very repetitive and overly wordy, with a series of similar stories included in their entirety whether or not they serve to provide enlightenment to the reader, or simply confuse, and often times lose because it's territory that's been covered. Regard it as more of a cathartic experience for the writer and his collaborators and it might make sense.