You’d expect a book that involves high-stakes gambling, false headquarters, hidden compartments, paper that’s designed to dissolve upon contact with water, and police raids that involve spectacularly breaking down and entering through walls to be complete fiction.
Particularly a book that includes businesses being set up on tropical islands, and cameos being made by one of Australia’s richest businessmen, a former prime minister, and underworld figures made famous by the likes of such shows as Underbelly.
But the adage that the truth is stranger than fiction rings true with Beating the Odds, a rollicking-good read that weaves all these elements and more into a highly readable work of non-fiction. Not a bad effort for a book that actually started out as a university assignment.
First-time author Nichola Garvey started researching the little-known tale of Australia’s most successful SP bookie, Allan Tripp, as part of her masters in creative writing course. Her lecturer and mentor Peter FitzSimons, himself a widely published author, passed it on to HarperCollins. They loved it and signed her up six weeks later. It’s the kind of fairytale most writers dream of, with the bonus for readers being that a must-read part of Australian history has been told in a comprehensive, fast-paced, often-funny book.
The ‘SP’ in the bookmaking is short for ‘starting price’, and SP bookies were an illegal but entrenched part of Australian betting life. Offering better odds, they enabled punters to have a bet away from the track, but drew funds and taxes away from the government-run TABs. The government, clearly, couldn’t have that happen, and the subsequent crackdown on SP bookmaking put Tripp, the top bookie, firmly in the police’s crosshairs.
Regarded as a genius by some and a criminal by others (whatever your quibble, he is actually the most convicted), Tripp was irrefutably the world’s—yes, the world’s—most successful bookmaker. Beating the odds that in part lend the book its title, Tripp found ways round or simply kept getting back up to rebuild his often-nearly-bankrupt business into one so successful and later sold for so much that he became, effectively, a billion-dollar bookie. And yes, this is where the too-out-there-to-be-true elements I mentioned in the opening paras come into play.
But I’m not going to give too much of the story away and I’m going to let you make up your own mind about Tripp’s genius or criminality. HarperCollins has been kind enough to allow us to give away some copies of Beating the Odds. Head to the giveaways section to find out how to be in the draw to score one.