Loose Units

Paul F. Verhoeven

Loose Units
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Loose Units

Paul F. Verhoeven

Paul Verhoeven’s father, John, is a cop. Well, an ex-cop. Long since retired, John spent years embroiled in some of the seediest, scariest intrigue and escapades imaginable. Paul, however, is something of an artsy, sensitive soul who can’t understand why he doesn’t have the same heroism and courage as his dad. One day, John offers Paul the chance of a lifetime: he’ll spill his guts, on tape, for the first time ever, and try to get to the bottom of this difference between them.

What unfolds is a goldmine of true-crime stories, showing John’s dramatic (and sometimes dodgy) experience of policing in Sydney in the 1980s. The crims, the car chases, the frequent brushes with death and violence, and the grey zone between what’s ethical and what’s effective: finally Paul gets real insight into what’s formed his father’s character.

Thrilling, fascinating and often laugh-out-loud funny, Loose Units is a high-octane adventure in policing, integrity and learning what your father is really all about.


Decades after a youthful Paul Verhoeven inadvertently sees a crime scene photo that he’s never been able to shake, he sits down with his ex-cop father John to find out why. Why he couldn’t shake it, how his father coped with so much worse, and how videogame reviewer and pop-culture nerd Paul veered so much away from the paths of action and danger both of his parents barrelled headfirst into. What follows is the story of John Verhoeven’s trajectory from a tired factory worker who sees an ad with a spunky cop in it to police officer with a reputation for getting shit done right – but this doesn’t really summarise Verhoeven’s book. This is not a straightforward memoir; it’s as much about John as a person and the Verhoevens as a family unit as it is about car chases and shenanigans.

The casual, intimate way of writing feels as loose as its title, like a warm chat on the porch looking over the winter mist on the trees beyond – a conversation you’re more than happy to brave the cold to listen to. This same familiarity can make it hard to know what you’d do yourself, in these same situations: faced with colleagues who are needlessly violent, and could direct that at you, what would you do?

Paul’s admiration and pure belief in his father pours out of every page, but it doesn’t stop him probing those moments that you expect in these sorts of stories. From the hard-knock eighties cops, a time of Roger Rogerson and no mobile phones or recording devices tracking what the force is doing, you come away from this book thinking thank god that has changed! There is violence, and damage, and profiling; there are bodies moved to keep paperwork to a minimum; there were times I had to put the book down and look away. (Let’s face it, I’m a crime reviewer and pop-culture nerd, and I couldn’t cut it as a cop either.) It’s grim stuff, but it’s also, often, genuinely laugh-out-loud funny. The story is mostly John’s, with Paul occasionally interjecting with a topical movie reference, or his father’s insistent corrections when he thinks his son might get too fancy with descriptions; these are a riot (but the good kind). John himself is a blast, even though sometimes there are some loose morals to go along with those loose units. It’s a different, personal kind of true crime, with heart – and many other organs besides.

Fiona Hardy is our monthly crime fiction columnist, and also blogs about children’s books at Fiona The Hardy.

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