Peter Corris

See You at the Toxteth by Peter Corris, selected by Jean Bedford & The Red Hand by Peter Temple

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January–February 2020, no. 418

Two of the greatest Australian crime writers died within six months of each other in 2018. Peter Temple authored nine novels, four of which featured roustabout Melbourne private detective Jack Irish, and one of which, Truth, won the Miles Franklin Literary Award in 2010. Temple died on 8 March 2018, aged seventy-one. Peter Corris was more prolific, writing a staggering eighty-eight books across his career, including historical fiction, biography, sport, and Pacific history. Forty-two of those highlighted the travails of punchy Sydney P.I. Cliff Hardy. Corris died on 30 August 2018, seventy-six and virtually blind.

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Known in certain quarters as ‘the godfather of Australian crime fiction’, Peter Corris is certainly persistent. Prior to this, he has written thirty-seven novels involving the wily, irrepressible Cliff Hardy. The Dunbar Case showcases an older but still sprightly Hardy, who deals with maritime mysteries, amorous women, and a notorious crime family.

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Comeback by Peter Corris

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February 2012, no. 338

Peter Corris’s Comeback, the thirty-ninth or some such book in his Cliff Hardy series, is yet another to be plucked from the apparently bottomless ocean that is the crime fiction genre. Ageing private detective Hardy – as adept with his fists as he is tactful with the ladies – skulks around a Sydney crammed with scabrous cops, fat-cat entrepreneurs, hired muscle, slinky prostitutes, and myriad other shady types. Misogyny at times bubbles uncomfortably close to the surface, there is no ailment physical or emotional that cannot be alleviated by alcohol, and the outcome conceals an Ian McEwan-ish twist so inevitable that it ultimately manifests as anything but.

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Forget Me If You Can by Peter Corris & The Dark Edge by Richard Harland

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November 1997, no. 196

Just in case anyone hasn’t head of Cliff Hardy, Peter Corris leads off his new collection of short stories featuring the Sydney private eyes, Forget Me If You Can, with ‘The Hearing’ – an informative little piece in which Hardy, his license suspended, undergoes an interview with a ‘psycho-sociological profiler’ to see if he is a fit and proper person to carry on snooping. In compressed form Corris gives us the essential Hardy: aggressive, cynical, hard-bitten, rude or charming (depending), middle aged, battle-scarred, divorced, ex-smoker, drinks too much, as honest as the job allows. You get a good sense of the man’s strengths and weaknesses, most of which are expanded on in the dozen stories that follow.

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The remarkable Peter Corris has done it again, producing his third book this year, with probably a couple still to come. I say remarkable because, with the occasional lapse, he manages to maintain a high standard of entertainment despite being prolific. No real writer, of course, would countenance publishing one book a year, let alone four or five, but fortunately for crime buffs this is not a problem for Mr Carris, who, one suspects, would happily produce a book every month if the publishers let him.

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Publishers are like invisible ink. Their imprint is in the mysterious appearance of books on shelves. This explains their obsession with crime novels.

To some authors they appear as good fairies, to others the Brothers Grimm. Publishers can be blamed for pages that fall out (Look ma, a self-exploding paperback!), for a book’s non-appearance at a country town called Ulmere. For appearing too early or too late for review. For a book being reviewed badly, and thus its non-appearance – in shops, newspapers and prized shortlistings.

As an author, it’s good therapy to blame someone and there’s nothing more cleansing than to blame a publisher. I know, because I’ve done it myself. A literary absolution feels good the whole day through.

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This is The Great Tradition. Spade, Marlowe, Archer, Spenser. Peter Corris has relocated it, given it another place and another name and done it all with verve and flair. In ten adventures, Cliff Hardy lurches around Sydney in the rusty armour of his Falcon (except on one occasion when he goes to his spiritual home, California). While Corris does not achieve as much in the short stories as he does in the novels (but then that is true of Hammett), he does present Cliff Hardy as alive (miraculously) and well (apart from batterings and hangovers) and doing good (if not entirely within the meaning of the act).

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