Not for the first time, I reflected that a hundred and twenty a day wasn’t a good rate for getting dead, but there was no point in upping the fees. A thousand a day is still a poor deal.
The words of fictional detective Cliff Hardy, created by Australian author Peter Corris. The career of Sydney-based Cliff Hardy was launched in 1980 with the publication of The Dying Trade and continues, some 30 novels later, with The Dunbar Case (2013). The books have one thing in common, aside obviously from Cliff Hardy. They all carry the strapline the Godfather of contemporary Australian crime-writing.
Peter Corris left the worlds of academia and journalism behind and became a full-time writer in 1982. In addition to the Cliff Hardy novels, his stable contains the characters of Ray Crawley (Australian Federal Security agent), Richard Browning (detective) and Luke Dunlop (Witness Protection Agency). But these are not one-off affairs. Each of these characters appears in a series of books all of their own, and that is all before we turn to Corris’s historical fiction collection, and then his non-fiction novels related to sport, biography and Pacific history. Little wonder he is known as the Godfather. It is such a shame, however, that he isn’t more widely known, and more importantly more widely read.
The crime fiction reader can be as esoteric as they wish, such is the breadth of the genre. You will always find a specialist niche just for you, as shown by our foray into animal noir. Crime fiction readers, as I’ve also argued in the past, are as likely to read as deep into one particular offshoot as they are to read as widely across the whole spectrum. The character of Cliff Hardy may remind you of Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe. He will not fail to entertain you if you like private investigators who border on the pulp fiction side of the genre but don’t drift in the darkest excesses of the hardboiled style. The third novel in the series The Empty Beach (1983) was made into a film starring Bryan Brown as Cliff Hardy. The story revolves around a supposed drowning and Hardy has to plumb the depths of the violent Bondi Beach underworld in order to solve the case. It remains, to date, the character’s only big-screen appearance. Again, this is a shame. Cliff Hardy represents everything that is good about the genre, as does his creator.
Peter Corris may have long been known as the Godfather, but it is worth reflecting on the Australian literary scene he moved into. In 1985, five years after The Dying Trade was published, a British born, Australian settled writer named Alan Yates died. Following a career as a salesman and publicity writer for Qantas, Yates turned to write full time. What followed was an astonishing literary career. Writing under the pseudonym Carter Brown, Yates wrote over 200 novels and sold several hundred thousand copies of his work. The scale of his efforts is genuinely staggering and by the mid-1950s Yates produced over 20 books a year. He completely deconstructed the pulp fiction genre, even the name Carter Brown was chosen to appeal to a US audience, and then wrote to its specific formula. By any measure except perhaps critical acclaim, these were daunting footprints for Peter Corris to follow. Which is precisely why he didn’t follow them. Corris refocused the Australian crime fiction genre along Australian lines. Whilst Cliff Hardy has echoes of his US predecessors, he is undoubtedly an Australian character in Australian stories. It was this focus which helped Corris to tread his own path.
As a role model, Peter Corris, the Godfather, is tough to beat. After all, he can write like this,
The name’s Cliff, you should drop over some time.