Many years ago there was a specialist bookshop tucked away in Auburn Road, Hawthorn run by a crime fiction expert and massive enabler (I think his name was Malcolm Campbell). He was one of those real-life people that made me thankful I'd made the trek from the bush to the big city, and Peter Corris was another. Sure I probably would have eventually found his books, but arriving in the city, finding that shop, and eventually being introduced to Cliff Hardy, kind of reinforced at that time it had been a good move all round.
From the opening book in the Cliff Hardy series, here was something that was familiar, and yet slightly different about them. They are, as further study eventually revealed, straight out of the lone-wolf, private eye rule book, and yet quintessentially Australian. They are also very Sydney - with the mean streets that Hardy lived on never that far from the Harbour, yet there is something in the quick-fire delivery, and the quiet determination that reeks of the laconic Australian character. Put a hat on him, push it back on his head and roll up his sleeves and Hardy could have been a man from the bush. Stick him in a Ford, hand him a glass of wine, and have him haunt a few coffee shops and bars and he was city through and through. Part of the appeal of Cliff Hardy is that he has always been as hard to pin down - age / background / look and feel, as he has been instantly recognisable.
But forty-two books later, Cliff is flagging a little, but game as always, and Peter Corris has pulled the plug, battling a few health problems of his own. So reading WIN, LOSE OR DRAW is one of those jarring moments no matter how you look at it. It's the last ever book of a series that's become as part of all fans January's as has a food hangover or the Test Cricket. It's certainly always been my Boxing Day Test tradition - flat out on a couch, test on in the background, Cliff Hardy book in hand. Glass of white wine beside me.
It also appears that the decision to call it quits on the series happened after the book had been written - so there's no maudlin fare-the-well's, no tying up of any long-standing questions (not that there really are that many, expect maybe how bloody old is Cliff really!). What we have in WIN, LOSE OR DRAW is classic Hardy, hired by a wealthy businessman, Gerard Fonteyn, to find his teenage daughter. Julianna has been missing for over a year and despite a number of other granted half-hearted attempts there's never been a hint that she's dead or alive. Initially Hardy is inclined to agree with this assessment, but a photograph that eventually comes to light is just enough for him to get out, kick some rocks and see what crawls out.
A nicely complicated plot is elegantly executed with plenty of opportunity for even a slightly cricket distracted reader to keep up, but as always at the heart of these books is the tough-guy, lone-wolf, rough-around-the-edges, good-bloke Cliff Hardy. Even exiting this way, on a high, solving the unsolvable, never looking back, never saying goodbye, no regrets, no apologies, kind of makes sense. It won't make fans feel any better come next January, but then there are 42 of these books that you can always re-read. That's a lot of January's.