The Night Dragon
University of Queensland Press, $32.95 pb, 295 pp, 9780702260209
In 2013, Matthew Condon published Three Crooked Kings, the first in his true crime series delving into the murky, sordid, and often brutal world of police corruption in Queensland. That year, he wrote in Australian Book Review that, after finishing his trilogy, he planned to ‘swan dive into the infinitely more comfortable genre of fiction’.
The story of disgraced ex-commissioner Terence Murray Lewis concluded with All Fall Down (2015), but there was no swan dive. The book was quickly followed by Little Fish Are Sweet (2016). Condon evidently had more to ask of that era of bagmen, crooked cops, and unsolved crimes. He returns to Brisbane’s underworld with The Night Dragon, part character study of psychopathic criminal Vincent O’Dempsey, and part investigation into his role in Brisbane’s Whiskey Au Go Go massacre and its links to a decades-old cold case: the 1974 murders of Barbara McCulkin and her two young daughters.
Just after 2 am on 8 March 1973, the Whiskey Au Go Go nightclub in Fortitude Valley went up in flames. Fifteen people died, making it Australia’s worst mass murder since the frontier wars. Two men were arrested: John Andrew Stuart and James Richard Finch. Both protested their innocence, and doubts about the nature of their involvement continue. Less than a year later, McCulkin and her daughters vanished from their home in Highgate Hill. McCulkin knew too much about what happened that night.