Meticulously researched, broad in its historical scope, Jacks and Jokers (QUP, 2014), the second books in Matthew Condon’s examination of police corruption in Queensland from the late 1950s to the late 1980s, is among a wave of recent books that have redefined the craft of Australian true crime writing (John Safran’s Murder in Mississippiand Anna Krien’s Night Games, are two others).
Indeed, the label ‘true crime’ almost doesn’t seem a fitting way to describe what Condon has done in Jacks and Jokers or the first instalment, Three Crooked Kings (2013). The books almost form an alternative history of a period of Queensland’s development that has been much talked about and often parodied, but little known or understood, both in and outside of the Sunshine State.
As was the case with Three Crooked Kings, the narrative spine of Jacks and Jokers is the career of Terry Lewis. Lewis joined the Queensland police force at twenty and rose to be commissioner before the Fitzgerald Inquiry in the late 80s or, as it was formally known, The Commission of Inquiry into Possible Illegal Activities and Associated Police Misconduct, which led to his trial and conviction on various charges, including accepting vast amounts in bribes to protect vice and illegal gambling.
Condon begins Jacks and Jokers in 1976 with the aftermath of the rape of sex worker Mary Anne Brifman, daughter of brothel madam Shirley Brifman, whose illegal activities were detailed in Condon’s earlier book. Shirley Brifman was found dead of a drug overdose in March 1972 and the incident ruled a ‘suicide’, despite suspicious circumstances around her death and the fact she had turned whistle blower on the corrupt cops who had provided protection in exchange for money. Mary Anne only discovered after the fact that her rapist was a Queensland police officer who was never prosecuted for the crime.