In 1942 Peter Corris was born in Stawell Victoria. 122ks away, I arrived in a similar part of the world sometime later. In 1980 I was newly arrived in Melbourne, and by absolute happenstance, a crime fiction fan, living around the corner from Murder Inc in Auburn Road, Hawthorn. My delight at that stage was the discovery of a ready source of John Wainwright's books. And then Malcolm, the lovely and profoundly knowledgeable gentleman who ran Murder Inc, asked me if I'd like to try something local for a change. The Dying Trade was my first Cliff Hardy novel. It was the first non-purely-pulp styled Australian novel I read, and I was hooked.
Mind you, since that day I've quietly blamed Peter Corris for a lot of things. Constant flirting with bankruptcy and complications whenever I move house due to the sheer weight of books that I have to cart with me is the number 1 problem. Then there's what he did to a person's imagination. Somewhere I'd always assumed that there was a taciturn, wise-cracking, hard man who I'd fall madly for, and never quite get near. I'd also always assumed that Sydney was exactly as Corris described it. (Never found it, always wondered why I was obviously looking in the wrong place.) Blamed Corris for creating an unattainable world - slightly cool, slightly grotty, slightly dangerous, slightly edgy, frequently sad, always tough, populated by determined, square jawed men in old cars - preferably with column shifts and foot controlled dimmer switches.
But now, today, the sad news that Peter Corris has died. Aged 76 it's been well known that he's battled complications from diabetes for a while now, forced to cease writing in 2017 due to failing sight. He was still contributing to Newtown Review of Books (a site run in partnership between Peter's wife Jean Bedford and Linda Funnell) and his articles were insightful, sometimes whimsical and always interesting. (Disclaimer: I review for them as well).
No doubt there will be much written in the coming days about Peter Corris and his influence and place in Australian Crime Fiction annals. The history of the Cliff Hardy series is well known - starting in 1980 with The Dying Trade, through 44 books to the final Win, Lose or Draw in 2017. Then there were 8 Ray Crawley novels, 8 Richard Browning novels, 3 Luke Dunlop novels and a number of other fiction and non-fiction titles. He was, needless to say, a prolific writer, who knew how to build a character, a place and a style that was unmistakeable.
In the early days there is no doubt whatsoever that he was a trailblazer. It's hard to believe publishers would have been at all interested in a wise-cracking, hard as nails, ex Military type, haunting the mean streets of Sydney as in the words of Shane Maloney:
Cliff Hardy is no anguished soul, no driven avenger, no flippant cynic or cool careerist. If anything, he’s a bit of a dinosaur. An old-school working-class male with a bred-in-the-bone detestation of the smooth operators and corner cutters from the big end of town. His most conspicuous quality is a capacity to absorb a constant diet of physical violence. His standard modus operandi is to ask a question, get clobbered, ask some more questions, get shot. Eventually the bad guys get sore fists or run out of bullets. The cops are unhelpful at best, often obstructive and sometimes corrupt. His clients are often well-heeled but the only kickbacks he ever gets are of the in-the-teeth variety. Poor Cliff has been pole-axed so many times that it’s a wonder he’s not taking his meals through a straw.
Taken from this article: https://insidestory.org.au/the-man-and-his-city/ which is well worth reading.
To be fair I can't say anything much about the influence that Peter Corris and Cliff Hardy have had on Australian writing, but I can on what it meant to a reader. Back in the early 1980's it wasn't cool to be Australian. It wasn't cool to read Australian novels, and it wasn't actually that easy to get your hands on good, tightly written, entertaining local crime fiction. When Cliff Hardy arrived on the scene he was like a breath of welcome, slightly beery air. His stories, even for a woman living in Melbourne, were accessible and compelling. They were enjoyable, they were relatable and the little details - like Cliff's likely real age and the level of thumping he could take and still be walking around were irrelevant.
In recent years a new Cliff Hardy at Christmas had become a "tradition". On the couch, Boxing Day, with the Test in the background, reading the latest Cliff Hardy was something that made Christmas bearable. When Kerry O'Keefe retired, there was Cliff. When Jim Maxwell had a stroke, there was Cliff. And when Cliff was retired, there was a hole which will remain for years to come - although there is that wonderful back catalogue and a re-read will be the new tradition in these parts.
My thoughts are with Jean, Peter's daughters and their grandkids, his friends, extended family and colleagues. Their loss is personal, real and I can't begin to image what it means. His loss for this reader is different, but he'll be missed.