John’s personal reading for August 2014

Jacks JokersJacks and Jokers

By Mathew Condon

2014

This is the second of three volumes to be published by Mathew Condon, the first being ‘Crooked Kings, Jacks and Jokers’ which covered the rise of Joe Bjelke-Petersen and the influence of Commissioner Bischof, his bag boys and their malfeasances. This second book looks at essentially the same cast as their roles and influence wax and wane but especially and centrally the ‘inevitable rise and rise’ of Commissioner Terry Lewis and his ever-efficient but baleful associate, Inspector and eventual Assistant Commissioner Tony Murphy. The other central bridging character is the tragic figure of Commissioner Whitrod who is doomed to see his best intentions dashed by a mixture of ambition and avarice in his opponents. There are interesting lessons to be learned from this aspect of the tale with regard to both the much joked-about separation of powers and the psychology and sociology of organisational change. This volume covers 1976 to late 1982 and we can assume that volume three will progress into the Fitzgerald years and beyond.

I had rather hoped that the much-anticipated third volume would mention ‘Aces’ in title but we are informed that it will be entitled ‘All Fall Down’ and will emerge next year. A more recent twist in the long-running drama over sources and evidence occurred earlier this year when the now Mr Terry Lewis withdrew access to his personal files from Mathew Condon. From the readers point of view this looks like a somewhat pointless action with so much material already in the public domain and may only provide a further insight into the laboured psychology of the ex-Commissioner.

I make no detailed comment on the structure and content which is as easy to read and well-supported by research as the first volume. It takes effort to run so many character-based strands which occasionally overlap without creating some confusion and it is to Condon’s credit that he manages to do this so well. I can only hope that readers who were unaware or too young to be familiar with these years can learn something from the sheer scale and audacity of what took place within and without the public eye at that time.

In this volume, there are mentions of some homosexual strands which I find (at this stage) a little puzzling. There is the case of Clarrie Osborne whose case was written up by Prof Paul Wilson (I possess a copy). I am unsure (apart from the scale and unusual nature of the case) why it is included though Paul Wilson is now subject to charges of a sexual nature which have yet to be tried. More understandably, there is the case of Constable ‘Dave’ and his associates which will presumably reach fruition in volume three. Less understandably there is the case of newsreader Paul Griffin who was found in compromising circumstances in an Albert Park toilet.

This volume ends with the departure of a disappointed Tony Murphy from the Police service and his apparent retreat to his Geraldton Wax flower farm at Amity Point on Stradbroke Island where I encountered him. Condon hints at what is known as his continuing involvement.

We are left with the fondly remembered images of the Brisbane Commonwealth Games along with Lewis being photographed with the Queen on ‘Britannia’, dreaming of a knighthood yet to eventuate while being enmeshed in the current appointment of executive and judicial officer of the state.

PenumbraMr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

By Robin Sloan

2012

Nerd alert! The author worked for Twitter and obviously has hipsterish insights into the silicon valley scene. This means that this book can read quite well for someone who is tech challenged but has a lot more resonance and sense of fun when Google is being gently skewered and fine old texts are being ravaged by digitisation. Its central issue is easily understood by all readers, the interface between traditional print and digitisation accompanied a generous strand of cryptography and a soupçon of romance.

I cannot say that there is a strong sense of dramatic tension in the telling of the tale but there is some good descriptive writing with lots of asides that make gentle fun of the tech world. The central focus is Mr Penumbra’s 24-hour bookstore a weird tower-like building with three-storey shelves filled with books of encrypted material. Our young hero takes a job on the night shift as curator/sales person in the store and he and his associates/friends (who are mostly techies, nerds and entrepreneurs) become enmeshed in a mystery that has it origins in the introduction of moveable type 500 years ago.

I felt the issue of how the relationship between books and ebooks was sympathetically explored and probably resolved best at the emotional level which may leave questions unanswered at a more intellectual level.

Necessary ErrorsNecessary Errors

By Caleb Crain

2013

This is a book that requires time to be read properly. It is longish but it is the languid thoughtful expression that takes time to absorb. This could be seen simply as a coming-out book set in a foreign clime and interesting time but it is quite a lot more than that.

Crain’s work (which must contain autobiographical elements) is set in Prague just after the velvet revolution and as the nation grappled with the meaning of newly-found freedoms. Jacob is a young American at something of a loose end but wanting (and unable) to write something. Similarly, his sexuality is undecided but moving closer to homosexuality.

This is not the Prague of all-out tourism nor does the author encounter (except in a small echo – an admission of prostitution from Lubös) the decadence sketched in Tsolkas’ ‘Dead Europe’. There is a greyish almost water-coloured atmosphere to the locations as Autumn passes into Winter, then Summer and Spring. Locations are set within the city centre (especially a series of coffee houses, cafes, improvised bars and assorted student digs). It is, perhaps, a sense of indecision and change for both the environment and protagonist that the reader is sampling. Certainly there is a sense of openness to possibilities while maintaining an awareness of the past.

The location is populated with a range of characters (young and old) that are accurately observed and sometimes humorously rendered. I particularly enjoyed the Mr. Stehlik household, Milo, and Jacob’s pet hamster. Descriptions of how to assemble the necessities of a daily life and even a bath are well used to create a sense of a group that is almost cell-like, constantly moving, growing, changing and adapting to internal and external pressures yet always with a sense of growing awareness that this is all a temporary time and space.

This is not just a bunch of young, raffish people living a bit rough (often of their own making) partying, drinking, thinking, learning, experiencing lust and love (there is sex but handled largely almost softly and distantly). There is talk, internal and external, that is thoughtful and revealing which can be quite satisfying to absorb and contemplate.

I don’t doubt that some readers will find the first 300 odd pages bring on an attack of the longueurs but I found it rewarding. The last section after Jacob knows he is going back to Grad school and he acquires a new boyfriend, Milo, moves faster and is indicative of a new maturity as both of them work out the nature of what they are experiencing and how it will fit into their lives.

Some reviews have criticised the work on the grounds that is lacks enough character development. I think they miss the point. This is a novel of the interior where slight changes can be quite remarkable if absorbed and understood.

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