Is Peter Corris trying to phase out Cliff Hardy? Has the tough, smart Sydneysider passed his use-by date? That could well be the impression you get from the latest Cliff Hardy. In Open File, Cliff’s career has ended with the final cancellation of his PI licence. He is tidying up his office and comes across a file from a 20-year old case that was never really solved. The rest of the book is about that case, and takes us back to the time when Cliff was in his prime, Sydney was a rougher, scruffier place than it is now, and technology didn’t intrude too much into the walk down the mean streets.
The old case involved Cliff trying to find a man’s son who disappeared a couple of years before. Of course, it’s not straightforward. Sydney’s criminal element is in the middle of it, there are several deaths, dirty politicians are involved (this is NSW), Cliff’s Falcon was past it thirty year’s ago, and his mouth tries to get him into trouble more than once. And Cliff meets a woman.
The writing is as good as ever. The descriptions and the dialogue are pitched just right, as Peter Corris takes us into the seedy, tired underbelly of Sydney and the sad people who exist there. He gives us Cliff Hardy, one of my favourite PIs (or should we say PEAs), with the right mix of toughness, experience, understanding and compassion to make his books a pleasure to read.
But this one does seem a bit tired. The characters are a bit too close to being caricatures, and the way people and events work out doesn’t quite ring true. Perhaps the old flashback to the past approach isn’t the way to capture the best of Cliff Hardy, and it seems unlikely that he will ever really be at home in the brave new world of investigation that technology has led us to. So maybe he should just take off into the sunset – or was this what Peter Corris was trying to do? After all, Cliff Hardy was introduced in The Dying Trade in 1980, and was having trouble with his Falcon even then. Cliff was ex-army, ex-Malaya, and ready for action. The writing, the characters and the sense of place were as good then as they are now. But it also means that Cliff Hardy must be getting on in years, so perhaps he should retire.
Open File by Peter Corris, published by Allen & Unwin, 2008, ISBN: 978 1 74175 417 9
Other books by Peter Corris:
Cliff Hardy series – The Dying Trade (1980), White Meat (1981), The Marvellous Boy (1982), The Empty Beach (1983), Heroin Annie [SS] (1984), Make Me Rich (1985), The Big Drop [SS] (1985), Deal Me Out (1986), The Greenwich Apartments (1986), The January Zone (1987), Man in the Shadows [SS] (1988), O’Fear (1990), Wet Graves (1991), Aftershock (1991), Beware of the Dog (1992), Burn and Other Stories [SS] (1993), Matrimonial Causes (1994), Casino (1994), The Washington Club (1997), The Reward (1997), The Black Prince (1998), The Other Side of Sorrow (1999), Lugarno (2001), Salt and Blood (2002), Master’s Mates (2005), The Coast Road (2005), Saving Billie (2005), Taking Care of Business [SS] (2006), The Undertow (2006), Appeal Denied (2007)
Luke Dunlop, an agent for the Witness Protection Agency – Set Up (1992), Cross Off (1993), Get Even (1994),
Ray Crawley, Federal Security Agency director in Sydney, – Pokerface (1987), The Baltic Business (1988), The Kimberly Killing (1990), The Cargo Club (1990), The Azanian Action (1991), The Japanese Job (1992), The Time Trap (1994), The Vietnam Volunteer (2000),
Richard Browning, an adventurer and sometime actor – “Box Office” Browning (1987), “Beverly Hills” Browning (1987), Browning Takes Off (1989), Browning in Buckskin (1991), Browning P.I. (1992), Browning Battles On (1993), Browning Sahib (1994), Browning Without a Cause (1995)
Historical Novels – The Gulliver Fortune (1989), Naismith’s Dominion (1990), The Brothers Craft (1992), Wimmera Gold (1994), The Journal of Fletcher Christian (2005)
Other books – The Winning Side (1984)