Thursday, May 21, 2020


SEE YOU AT THE TOXTETH by Peter Corris (Allen & Unwin, 2019)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

A selection of stories featuring Australia's favourite PI, plus unpublished writing by Peter Corris on crime.

For almost four decades Peter Corris was known as 'the godfather of Australian crime fiction', and Cliff Hardy has been Australia's favourite private investigator since he solved his first case in 1980. This selection of stories starts with Cliff's early days driving round Glebe in his battered Falcon, drinking at the Toxteth Hotel and taking on cases that more often than not leave him as battered as his car. As Cliff becomes older and wiser, he prefers to use his head more than his fists, but the cases are as tricky as ever and Hardy's clients lead him to the murkiest surroundings.

To further celebrate Peter Corris's legacy, editor Jean Bedford has also included a selection of his columns on the world of crime and crime writing, along with his 'ABC of Crime Writing'. From Adultery to Yeti, via Gumshoe, Hit man and The Mob, this entertaining compendium gives a fascinating insight into Peter's vast knowledge of the genre.

Before Peter Temple, Michael Robotham, and Jane Harper were scooping Gold Daggers and raising the flag for Australian crime writing on the global stage, there was the great Peter Corris.

The prolific Sydney author singlehandedly kickstarted the modern era of ‘Terror Australis’ in 1980 when he broke through after much publisher rejection with THE DYING TRADE, a distinctly Aussie version of the US hardboiled tales he loved, with a distinctly Aussie hero; private eye and hard man Cliff Hardy. More than 80 books, including 42 Cliff Hardy novels, followed. At the start, Corris had been told by many in the book industry that 'no one wanted to read crime fiction set in Australia'.

He set his tales there anyway, and time has certainly proven him, not those short-sighted publishers, right. His tales are classic private eye adventures in a clear Aussie accent. He digs into Sydney and its surrounds, and Australian life across a number of facets, from sport to race relations to what goes on in the dingy backstreets the middle and upper classes tend to ignore or try to pretend doesn't exist.

Sadly, in 2018, ‘late’ was added to great.

SEE YOU AT THE TOXTETH is a fitting tribute to the godfather of modern Australian crime; an expertly curated collection of Cliff Hardy short stories and Corris’s columns on a variety of writing topics from genre vs literary divides, his final swansong, thoughts on Lee Child, on booze, and more, as well as his previously unpublished ABC of Crime Writing.

I had read a few of Corris's later novels in the past dozen or so years, and had the pleasure of interviewing him at some length for Good Reading magazine in Australia early on in my critic and features writer career (you can read that feature in SOUTHERN CROSS CRIME), but this was my first taste of Cliff Hardy in short story form. Frankly, I shouldn't have waited so long.

These tales are excellent. We witness the many faces of Sydney throughout Hardy’s adventures, and the changing (and unchanging) face of Australia as more than three decades pass by. There are some really terrific short stories here - punchy, full of character and a great sense of place.

Stories from the early 80s to the 2000s are on show, with Hardy tasked with finding missing people, providing protection to those in need, and more. Events often go awry, his clients regularly don't tell him the whole truth, and the escapades are fun and full of adventure as well as a sense of Hardy's own moral code - roughly aligned with the law, but sometimes choosing a deeper justice at times.

Hardy is a fantastic character - and I felt I got to know him quite a bit better throughout the ten stories which make up the bulk of this book (about two thirds). For long-time fans or those new to Corris and Hardy, this is an entertaining and excellent read giving more insight into a giant of Australian crime writing on whose shoulders others have stood.

Craig Sisterson is a lawyer turned features writer from New Zealand, now living in London. In recent years he’s interviewed hundreds of crime writers and talked about the genre on national radio, top podcasts, and onstage at books festivals on three continents. He has been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards and the McIlvanney Prize, and is founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards and co-founder of Rotorua Noir. You can heckle him on Twitter. 

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