Review: Casino by Peter Corris

After turning down the job as head of security at the new Sydney casino, private investigator Cliff Hardy recommends Scot Galvani for the role, and moves on with his life, flattered by the offer, but a stickler for his unshackled lifestyle, which doesn’t allow for the structure of 9-5 office hours, or the wearing of a suit. When Galvani is murdered weeks later, his wife Gina hires Hardy to investigate.

Published in 1994, “Casino” is the eighteenth instalment in the Cliff Hardy series, and one of my favourites; its elements a perfect cocktail for my particular crime fiction proclivities. The plot is straightforward, as they all are, but peppered with a cast of nefarious villains and love interests, and bolstered by Hardy’s snide insights into Sydney in the early nineties. Hardy loves his city, that’s obvious, but can see beyond its sheen, and has trudged through its mud.

Cliff Hardy exists on the softer side of the hardboiled spectrum. Oh, he can rough ‘em up like the best of ‘em, and isn’t afraid to crack a few heads, but it’s always a last resort, when his actions have been reduced to a singular course. He identifies and marinates on his own personality flaws. Jealousy, and a sexual attraction to Vita Drewe, threaten to destroy his (relatively) long-term relationship with Glen Withers; and Hardy knows he drinks too much (by the cask, in fact) but doesn’t view it as a fatal flaw; not yet, at least. He is perfectly imperfect: the kind of hero readers follow to hell and back.

Every undiscovered Corris novel I dig up at second hand bookshops is a treat. I’ve maybe half a dozen to go, and (so far) I have resisted the urge to “cheat” and acquire them online.     

Paperback : 216 pages
ISBN-10 : 9781760110208
ISBN-13 : 978-1760110208
Publisher : Allen & Unwin (19 November 2014)

Review: The Dying Trade by Peter Corris

9781921922176Published in 1980, The Dying Trade introduced readers to one of Australian crime fiction’s most enduring and endearing protagonists, Sydney-based private investigator Cliff Hardy. At the time of his death last year, Peter Corris had written more than forty mysteries starring the hardscrabble gumshoe. I’ve read maybe half of them, and even the mid-grade mysteries are buffed to high gloss thanks to the author’s economy with words, and acute sense of place; Corris’s ear is finely attuned to the voices of Sydney’s distinct neighbourhoods. Not to mention the first-person narrator makes for good company.

The pleasures of The Dying Trade may be primitive, but they’re genuine. There are echoes of Chandler and Hammett, but Hardy’s first outing isn’t some lame Aussie pastiche. Here, Hardy is hired by a wealthy property developer to determine who is harassing his sister. But of course there’s far more to it than that; and as Hardy digs deeper, he discovers dark and deadly secrets connected to the Gutteridge family.

What makes The Drying Trade, and the entire Hardy series so compelling, is the author’s ability to extricate moral complexity from absolutely everyone on the page; suspects, victims, even the protagonist himself.

ISBN: 9781921922176
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 372
Imprint: Text Classics
Publisher: Text Publishing
Publish Date: 26-Apr-2012
Country of Publication: Australia

Review: Beware of the Dog by Peter Corris

9781760110154Middling among the distinguished author’s score of mysteries, but even the most routine Peter Corris novel offers incidental pleasures, and as a historical document of early-nineties Sydney, it’s well worth tracking down a copy of.

This tale of an affluent family’s murderous dysfunction sees Cliff Hardy’s gun stole and wanted by police in relation to a shooting. Corris wires together every cliche of the private eye genre electrifyingly; he treads familiar ground, but with such relish, it’s impossible not to be swept away.

Solid, unspectacular, but utterly engrossing.

ISBN: 9781760110154
Format: Paperback
Number Of Pages: 200
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Country of Publication: AU

Review: The Washington Club by Peter Corris

9781760110215.jpgAfter reading the final Cliff Hardy caper, Win, Lose or Draw, I was in the mood for another, and so dipped into my collection of unread Peter Corris novels and grabbed The Washington Club — the nineteenth novel starring the irrepressible private eye.

The usual plaudits apply: The Washington Club is another slickly plotted mystery, which unfolds at breakneck speed. This time, Cliff finds himself drawn into the investigation of a rich developer. His wife, Claudia Fleischman, has been charged with the murder, and Cliff’s tasked with the job of finding the real killer. Easier said than done, of course, and this case turns out to be one of his deadliest.

It was interesting returning to a younger — late forties — Cliff Hardy. The violence is more brutal, and the sex is graphic. That’s not a bad thing; it just gives the novel a harder edge, which had been blunted in later novels, in line with Hardy’s ageing. And while all of these hard-boiled novels follow a formula, this one’s ending is tremendous — real edge-of-your-seat stuff, and if I didn’t know the series would continue, I’d be left wondering about Cliff Hardy’s future in the private enquiry agent business.

ISBN: 9781760110215
Format: Paperback (198mm x 128mm x 23mm)
Pages: 260
Imprint: Allen & Unwin
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Publish Date: 1-Dec-2014
Country of Publication: Australia

Review: Win, Lose or Draw by Peter Corris

9781760294786Win, Lose or Draw is the 42nd and final book in the long-running Cliff Hardy series, and is Peter Corris’s last novel (the reasons for which you can read about here). And while I’ll certainly miss my annual summer sojourns with the Aussie private detective, there’s something immensely satisfying about an acclaimed series ending on a high note. There’re no unnecessary theatrics to mark ‘the end’;  the final scene is not of Cliff clutching his chest as his troublesome heart finally beats its last. Win, Lose or Draw simply epitomises what has made the Cliff Hardy series resonate, and what’s lead to Corris being named the grand master of Australian crime fiction.

Win, Lose or Draw amalgamates some fairly well-trodden PI tropes — a missing girl, drugs, yachts, and the sex trade — into a finely-tuned, utterly compelling mystery. Hardy follows a trail from Sydney to Norfolk Island, Byron Bay, Coolangatta, and back again, utilising unlimited expenses thanks to the girl’s father; Gerard Fonteyn, a wealthy businessman, who is desperate for the safe return of his daughter. Hardy comes up against some hard-hitting gangsters, corrupt cops, and gradually unravels the truth behind Juliana Fonteyn’s disappearance.

Peter Corris’s final book moves like a well-oiled machine. It’s polished and primed, boasting the knife-sharp dialogue and wicked humour that the series is celebrated for. There’s no tying-up of loose ends; no callbacks to previous cases, or cosmetic appearances by characters who’ve populated previous novels. Win, Lose or Draw is simply another world-class novel by one of Australia’s best and most consistent crime novelists. Let’s not mourn the fact this is the end; let’s celebrate 42 cracking mysteries.

ISBN: 9781760294786
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 256
Imprint: Allen & Unwin
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Publish Date: 1-Jan-2017
Country of Publication: Australia

Review: That Empty Feeling by Peter Corris

Empty FeelingThat Empty Feeling is the forty-first Cliff Hardy novel, and demonstrates precisely why the Sydney-based PI and his creator, Peter Corris, have remained the pinnacle of Australian crime fiction for more than thirty years.

Hardy has reached an age when obituaries frequently present familiar names, and when he recognises Barry Bartlett’s, he reminisces to his daughter about the man, and the case, that involved him in the late eighties. Told in flashback, Corris is able to forget the contemporary age-addled Hardy and re-present the character in his prime: a drinker, brawler and womaniser; a man who won’t quit, regardless of the obstacles in his way.

A lifetime ago, Barry Bartlett fathered two children who were taken away from him when his relationship with their mother failed. In the present day, a man claiming to be his son has appeared, and Bartlett wants Hardy to verify the guy’s claims. Bartlett business dealings sees him in contact with various nefarious characters from Sydney’s underworld – and indeed, the nation as a whole – and there are plenty of people who might want to fool him; even the police. It’s immediately clear that Hardy’s latest case will require more than just a standard background check; before long he’s involved with a murder, a kidnapping, and an extravagant crime that demands the attention of the Federal Police. Once again, Hardy’s in over his head – but undaunted and in typical fashion, he barrels into trouble.

Corris’ stripped-down storytelling remains pitch-perfect, and his hardboiled prose with its distinct Australian flavour is unequalled. That Empty Feeling provides a tangled mystery, plenty of fisticuffs and thrills that demand the novel be read in a single sitting. Peter Corris is called the “godfather of Australian crime fiction” for a reason, and this is a darn fine place to start.

Warning: it’s the kind of series that induces binge-reading.

ISBN: 9781760112073
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 264
Imprint: Allen & Unwin
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Publish Date: 1-Jan-2016
Country of Publication: Australia

Review: Gun Control by Peter Corris

Gun CityIn Gun Control, the fortieth Cliff Hardy novel, the veteran PI is hired by enigmatic entrepreneur Timothy Greenhall to investigate the apparent suicide of his son. It’s an odd request –by its very definition, suicide is self-inflicted, and the coroner has verified it as the cause of death – but Greenhall is determined to uncover the truth, and trace the gun back to its supplier. Exposing the truth, however, means plunging head-first into a violent world of corrupt cops and outlaw bikies, and putting some of Hardy’s long-standing alliances on the line.

Gun Control features the requisite murders, sex, pulse-pounding confrontations, and the uneasily-formed coalitions that have become a staple of the long-running series. Peter Corris spotlights several issues currently afflicting Sydney, including the regular drive-by shootings and dramatic rise in access to firearms, as well as the clampdown on bikey gangs, but it’s starkly presented, fitting with Hardy’s brusqueness: it is what it is, and survival depends on your ability to adapt to the changing nature of the streets.

The Cliff Hardy formula doesn’t vary much, but the execution is exceptionally, and constantly, surefooted. Even the tamer efforts crackle with whip-smart dialogue and brave, sparse prose. Corris is Australia’s Robert B Parker, grandiosely talented in the hardboiled arena. Gun Controlshows he hasn’t lost a step.

Allen & Unwin
9781760112066