Review: Crooked by Camilla Nelson

crooked.jpg Camilla Nelson
Random House, 258 pp.
Source: review copy
Review by Bernadette Gooden

Set in the late 60's in Sydney, Crooked tells the story of the criminal underworld at that time, and the network of corrupt police and politicians that supported it and used it to gain power and influence.

Using the election of the Askin Government as a backdrop the era is imaginatively reconstructed by Camilla Nelson, who meshes real historical figures and fictional characters into an ultimately interesting story, although I found it a bit slow going at the beginning. It takes a little time to work out who everybody is, not being familiar with the real criminal characters portrayed.

The seedy back alleys of Kings Cross and Darlinghurst are moodily evoked and peopled with prostitutes, gangsters and bent coppers, the dirtiest copper of them all being Senior Sergeant Reginald Tanner. Tanner recruits a young detective, Gus Finlay, and it is assumed that he will do as he is told and keep his mouth shut. However, as he takes part in investigations into brutal gangland murders, Gus begins to put two and two together, and he must make a choice about what he must do.

Nelson recreates the feeling of the 60's in Australia admirably. The slang, the fashions, the interiors give a racy edge to the narrative. There is a real feeling that you are there. She also describes the murders and violence well, without being gratuitous. The gangsters and their women are particularly well drawn. I was a child at the time, but I can remember the cars and the clothing and many of the cultural references. She really brings this back well with her great descriptive writing.

It's interesting to contrast this story with the recent TV series "Underbelly". The motivation for killing each other is so similar, even though the events are separated by many decades.

I do think that this story has been kept very tight and could have been expanded a little and the characters fleshed out a little more. For example, we are introduced to Agostini, who seems to know what is really going on, but we know nothing about him or why he hasn't been dealt with. I think we could have had a little more back-story on some of the gangsters and their women also. Maybe there could have been a little more insight into the motivation of the corrupt police officers as well.

As Gus pieces together what we already know through hindsight, and a black book is discovered that names names, the story rushes towards its shocking conclusion. Camilla Nelson knows her stuff.

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on December 4, 2008 1:23 PM.

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