Ross Honeywill: Wasted

The prisoner–playwright who overdosed on opportunity

Murray Waldren


Wasted: The True Story of Jim McNeil, Violent Criminal and Brilliant Playwright
by Ross Honeywill
Viking, $32.95 pb, 312 pp, 9780670073955


Jim McNeil was a two-bit thug. A liar, a thief, a recurrent wife-beater and bully, probably a murderer, definitely a racist, he was a man in whom psychotic rage was seldom remote. Contradictions were elemental to his character: he was intelligent and charismatic, yet obdurate and ratty. Violence and menace defined him, but he was at heart a coward. He meticulously planned armed robberies, but frequently bungled their execution. He was nicknamed ‘The Laughing Bandit’, but his smiling demeanour was born of contempt for the people he traumatised and of disbelief at the ease with which he could snatch wealth. As the subtitle of Ross Honeywill’s aptly named biography makes clear, McNeil was also a playwright of subtle instinct and luminous talent. His is a Jekyll–Hyde conundrum well worth this contemplation.

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Murray Waldren

Murray Waldren

Murray Waldren has been a journalist at The Australian newspaper for 25 years, where his roles have included Literary Editor, Review Editor and Deputy Editor of The Australian Magazine. His literary rap sheet includes extensive author profiles and interviews, book reviews and columns, and he has written several books, among them Dining out with Mr Lunch, Moran V Moran and most recently The Mind and Times of Reg Mombassa. He is currently a judge for the Miles Franklin Literary Award and has been on judging panels for The Australian/Vogel’s Literary Award, the NSW Premiers Award and the ABC Fiction Award.  He also compiles the Literary Liaisons website.

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