DONE LIKE A DINNER
Jennifer Cooke & Sandra Harvey

 


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Random House Australia, Feb 2007
Reviewed by Kerrie Smith

True Crime

The authors tell us in the preface that DONE LIKE A DINNER 'is the result of ten years of eating at bistros, brasseries, cafes, pizzerias, coffee shops, clubs, pubs and restaurants, all in the name of research.' The focus of these stories is particularly on the gangland wars in Sydney and Melbourne from the 1980s to the first decade of the twenty first century. The ten stories, each given chapter status, are pieced together from newspaper reports, trial proceedings and through talking to family and other people who remember the incidents. Each chapter begins with an identification of a restaurant, night club or bar and includes in the first pages a recipe that might once have been served there.

A Very Fishy Murder, the first story, describes how Andrew Kalajzich of K's Snapper Inn at Manly came to put a price on his wife's head and eventually to kill her. In Chapter 2 Ducky O'Connor is killed in a crowded Sydney restaurant by mobster Lennie McPherson. McPherson re-appears in later stories. Chapter 3, Siege at the Spaghetti Speak-Easy, recounts how aboriginal juvenile delinquent Amos Atkinson, panics and holds thirty people hostage at Melbourne's Italian Waiters' Club. Finally in the last two stories we see Melbourne at the mercy of extended gangland wars culminating in the cold-blooded murder of Lewis Moran in 2004, and the impact of two decades of bikie gang vendettas in Sydney.

It seemed to me that the telling of the tales became a little predictable with each chapter following a similar pattern: an introduction, the primary event that is the focus of the chapter, and detailed, apparently well-researched, description of the background to the event. Make no mistake, these are squalid stories, highlighting ineptitude and corruption in the police force and the correctional services running the prisons. An inmate escapes easily from prison during visiting hours, drug trades in the outside world are managed by the imprisoned, and embarrassingly prisoners kill themselves while in isolation in a high security prison.

There is a thread running through the stories of Mark 'Chopper' Read as if there has been some reliance on his books for information. In a sense, this is not a book written for the casual reader: the names of Sydney and Melbourne identities are dropped with minimal explanations. Some infamous characters such as Lennie McPherson make more than one appearance but little is done to remind the reader that we've met him before.

The parts I liked best were the social history bits where the authors took the time to talk about the background of these people, the immigrant stock they came from, and environments they grew up in. To me, the recipes that prefaced each chapter were really an afterthought -- almost like an illustration, but not dishes that I would ever bother to cook.

Jennifer Cooke and Sandra Harvey are both experienced award-winning investigative and crime journalists. They have drawn from trials they have covered, and research previously carried out.

June 2007 review originally published on Murder & Mayhem

 

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