Review: Open File by Peter Corris

11 March 2008

openfile.jpgIs 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)

Rugby: Winning the World Cup

22 September 2007

The 2007 Rugby World Cup is getting to an interesting stage, but is the result inevitable? What sparked this post is an article in the New Zealand Herald by Robbie Deans, Crusaders coach and formerly part of the All Black coaching team, in which he sets out the view that:

To win the World Cup, a team has to think it can. It then has to transfer this into a series of meaningful actions that grows belief.

While there will be up to eight so-called contenders who will be trying to convince themselves that they can win the tournament as we head towards the quarter-final phase, the reality is just two teams know they can win it: New Zealand and South Africa.

He then goes on to outline why this is so, i.e. that the South Africans have experience of winning, with the nucleus of the side beating New Zealand at under-21 level, plus the success of South African sides in the Super 14, plus strength of key players, plus effective leadership. He doesn’t elaborate on why New Zealand assumes it can win but I think we can take that as axiomatic – the All Blacks always assume they will win.

I agree with Robbie Deans, and I think his thesis is confirmed by the English win at the 2003 World Cup. It’s my belief that England knew they could win the Cup when they beat the All Blacks in Wellington in June 2003, even when down to thirteen men at one stage. This confidence took them through to ultimate victory in Sydney later in the year. New Zealand contributed to England’s Wellington victory through selection decisions and a lack of agility to adjust the game plan. In particular, that game marked the All Black debut of Ma’a Nonu, and the selection of a still green Rodney So’oialo at No 8. Now don’t get me wrong, Rodney is now a great player and one of the most effective All Black forwards, but in 2003 he was still learning. Similarly, Ma’a Nonu was very promising, still is, but to debut against a strong England side was a risk. The outcome was that New Zealand were reactive, played the game the way England wanted it played, and lost.

The risk that now arises, and which also derives from a New Zealand decision, is the point Robbie Deans makes about South Africa’s success in the Super 14. The winning records established by South African sides in this year’s competition can be largely attributed to the decision by New Zealand Rugby to rest key All Blacks for most of the Super 14 as part of the conditioning campaign for the World Cup (I know, I know, this could be challenged – but what are the Hurricanes without Jerry Collins and Rodney So’oialo). While the conditioning programme may well contribute to the All Blacks reaching the finals, it would be ironic if it also served as a mental conditioning for the Springboks, who should be their opponents in that final in Paris.

Today saw France defeat Ireland, and neither country looks, or plays, as though they believe they can win the World Cup. I was surprised that Robbie Deans didn’t include Australia in his list of believers, especially since they are the only side to have beaten the All Blacks this year, and also because they have the star players and are the most agile thinkers of the major contenders. While some of their star players might be just too old this time around, there are others who are still young, fresh and fast.

So things are starting to get a bit interesting, even if it is only around whether England, Ireland, Wales and France can stagger into the quarter-finals, or suffer some ignominy at the hands of more lowly-ranked nations.

One thing, though, is that this World Club has been clearly marked by the triumph of the blogs as a means of communication about the events and people’s take on them. Great engagement!