Review: THE EMPTY BEACH, Peter Corris

‘The Empty Beach’ by Peter Corris

Peter Corris Cliff Hardy Banner 01

“The Empty Beach” is about private investigator Cliff Hardy’s routine investigation into a supposed drowning.  Beautiful client Marion Singer wants to find out the truth behind the mysterious disappearance of her wealthy husband John Singer.

The truth about John Singer, illegal trader and poker machine guru, is hard to find among the drug addicts, alcoholics and ashrams of Bondi Beach in Sydney.  Not to mention the hindrance of PhD rich girl Ann Winter and creepy jailer Mary Mahoud.  Hardy soon finds himself fighting for his life when his search for the truth involves some nasty venues controlled by an underworld of violent people and lead by kingpin Freddy Ward who does not appreciate his inquisitive nature.

Being an earlier novel, Hardy is ex-army, a law student dropout, insurance company investigator turned private eye who lives by a solid set of values.  And he’s seen many gruesome murders in his time.  Throughout Hardy shows understanding and tolerance of people from all walks of life, he embraces the city sprawl and the rural ethos, and doesn’t start a fight.  But he can be tough and not play nice when it comes to his own survival.  He has a habit, when in a tight situation, of jesting at the bad guy’s expense and consequently coping a beating.  This is well illustrated in the chapter where Hardy is imprisoned inside a squash court.

Crime Scene Tape 08

My suggestion is read “The Dying Trade” the first Cliff Hardy book in Peter Corris 40+ series even though a later book “The Empty Beach” was made into an Australian movie in 1985 and remains his archetypal crime story.  Based on Peter Corris 1983 novel of the same name, this movie starred Bryan Brown as Cliff Hardy and such notables as Belinda Giblin, Ray Barrett, John Wood, Joss McWilliam and Nick Tate as the ill-fated Henneberry.

While you may like to read the more current books like “Silent Kill” (above) the earlier ones are classic Australia in the 80s and 90s and my favourite is “Wet Graves”.  They have changed with the times, think internet and iPhones, and contain physical changes to Cliff Hardy at the same time they happened to the author.  For example, smoking habits or the triple bypass heart surgery Peter Corris underwent and kindly passed on to Cliff Hardy.  The relationship breakdowns do not appear to apply too much to real life.  However, the easy-going narrative speaks volumes, both men having a genuine affection for their family, the city of Sydney, and its diverse citizenry.

Now I’ve got that out of the way, let me say that one of the most enduring (and for me, best loved) of Australian crime fiction characters is Cliff Hardy.

Fast forward to future ‘Spoilers’ and Hardy is deregistered and operates on his own initiative but still maintains a rock-solid sense of fair play in the 21st century.  To date, Hardy’s longtime friend Frank Parker is now a retired senior police officer and married to Hilde, Hardy’s ex flatmate.  The reader watches this friendship evolve through a chain of novels and it’s just as interesting as following Hardy’s love life and family expansion.  Although he still holds a torch for his ex-wife Cyn.  And there’s cameos from characters like tattooist Primo Tomasetti with his graphic artwork and sleazy patter.

Cliff Hardy represents the kind of bloke many law-abiding citizens would like to have on their side, a blemish yet dependable man who’d share a joke or reminisce over a cold beverage.  When it comes to Aussie mystery solving, Hardy gets my vote every time.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward – copied from Gretchen’s blog Thoughts Become Words with her kind permission

Empty Beach

Review: WIN, LOSE OR DRAW, Peter Corris

  • published January 2017, Allen & Unwin Australia
  • #42 in the Cliff Hardy series
  • source: my local library
  • format: e-pub
  • ISBN:

 Synopsis (Allen & Unwin Australia)


A missing teenager, drugs, yachts, the sex trade and  a cold trail that leads from Sydney to Norfolk Island, Byron Bay and Coolangatta.
Can Cliff Hardy find out what’s really going on?
Will one man’s loss be Hardy’s gain? 

‘I’d read about it in the papers, heard the radio reports and seen the TV coverage and then
forgotten about it, the way you do with news stories.’

A missing girl, drugs, yachts, the sex trade and a cold trail that leads from
Sydney to Norfolk Island, Byron Bay and Coolangatta.

The police suspect the father, Gerard Fonteyn OA, a wealthy businessman. But he’s
hired Cliff to find her, given him unlimited expenses and posted a $250,000 reward for information.

Finally there’s a break – an unconfirmed sighting of Juliana Fonteyn, alive and well. But as usual, nothing is straightforward. Various other players are in the game – and Cliff doesn’t know the rules, or even what the game might be. He’s determined to find out, and as the bodies mount up the danger to himself and to Juliana increases.

My Take
When Juliana Fonteyn disappears she is an underage teenager. By the time her father hires Cliff Hardy to find her the case is already 18 months old, and other investigators have tried to find her and failed. In her father’s estimation they have largely been concerned with how much they will be paid. In Cliff Hardy he hopes he has found someone who really cares. And there is new evidence that Juliana is still alive – a photograph taken on Norfolk Island.
Even so the investigation doesn’t go smoothly and after fruitless weeks Hardy tells Gerard Fonteyn that he is giving up. And then there is yet another breakthrough.
This relatively easy read reflects the fact that the Australian author is most accomplished. This is #42 in a very popular series, although I have read very few of them before. Something I can see I should remedy in 2017.
My rating: 4.4
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About the author
Award winning Australian author Peter Corris has been writing his best selling Cliff Hardy detective stories for nearly 40 years. He’s written many other books, including a very successful ‘as-told-to’ autobiography of Fred Hollows, and a collection of short stories  about golf.

Review: THE DYING TRADE by Peter Corris

2012 Edition

2012 Edition

Despite Cliff Hardy’s creator, Peter Corris, having long been described locally as the godfather of Australian crime fiction I had never read one of the books featuring the Sydney-based private investigator until a couple of years ago and even then I chose to read a current book rather than delve into Hardy’s past. But this month’s Past Offences challenge to read a crime novel from 1980 gave me the motivation I needed to start at the beginning.

As well as being Peter Corris’ first foray into crime fiction THE DYING TRADE presented Australia’s first hard-boiled private investigator of any substance in the form of Cliff Hardy. The opening lines of the book make it very clear who Cliff is and demonstrate the kind of succinct yet image-rich writing style Corris would become known for

I was feeling fresh as a rose that Monday at 9:30 a.m. My booze supply had run out on Saturday night. I had no way of replenishing it on the Sabbath because we still had Sunday prohibition in Sydney then. I didn’t have a club; that’d gone a while before, along with my job as an insurance investigator. I also didn’t have a wife – not any more – or friends with well-filled refrigerators. Unless I could be bothered driving twenty-five miles to become a bona fide traveller, Sunday could be as dry as a Mormon meeting hall.

As well as being a dedicated drinker and having a somewhat cynical sense of humour, as we learn here, we also soon discover that Cliff was once a soldier, that as well as drinking to excess he smokes in a way that would be almost impossible these days given how many places the practice is illegal, the only sport he is interested in is boxing (in his most un-Australian trait he is disinterested in any brand of football) and that he is not beyond using violence to achieve his ends (though he suffers at least as much as he dishes out).

Although Corris makes no secret of the fact his inspiration for the Hardy stories were the novels of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler there is no mistaking that Hardy and his environment are entirely Australian. He lives in an inner-city Sydney that, at least in 1980, was still pretty close to its working class roots, and as the novel unfolds offers an intimate look at the entire city and its myriad social and geographic boundaries.  The cynicism has an Australian flavour, as does the way Hardy views different kinds of crime and the criminals who perpetrate them, operating on the basis that the worst crimes are those that generally go unpunished if not entirely unreported because they are committed by people with the money and power to make unpleasantness disappear.

The story starts out with deceptive simplicity: Hardy is asked by a wealthy businessman to investigate harassing phone calls and other threatening behaviour his sister is experiencing. But almost no one, perhaps aside from Hardy himself, is who they first appear to be in this novel so Hardy has to unravel layers of family secrets and broader corruption while dodging car bombs and other attempts to hide the truth. The resolution leaves Hardy, the novel’s surviving characters and the reader somewhat exhausted from the succession of sucker punches that fill the second half of the book.

I must admit that having only ever read very late novels to this series I had struggled to understand the widespread reverence for Cliff Hardy that I see in local crime fiction circles. But THE DYING TRADE does make it abundantly obvious why the character and his world are much admired. Well worth a read.

Publisher: Text Classics [This edition 2012, original edition 1980]

ISBN: 9781921922176

Length: 284 pages

Format: Hardcover Creative Commons Licence

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Review: SILENT KILL, Peter Corris

  • #39 in the Cliff Hardy series which began in 1980 with THE DYING TRADE
  • Published 2014 by Allen & Unwin Australia
  • available in Amazon Kindle
  • ISBN 978-1-74331-637-5
  • 255 pages
  • Source: my local library

Synopsis (author website)
Politics, murder and sex push Hardy to the limit.

When Cliff Hardy signs on as a bodyguard for charismatic populist Rory O’Hara, who is about to embark on a campaign of social and political renewal, it looks like a tricky job – O’Hara has enemies. A murder and a kidnapping soon cause the campaign to fall apart.

Hired to investigate the murder, Hardy uncovers hidden agendas among O’Hara’s staff as well as powerful political and commercial forces at work. His investigation takes him from the pubs and brothels of Sydney to the heart of power in Canberra and the outskirts of Darwin. There he teams up with a resourceful indigenous private detective and forms an uneasy alliance with the beautiful Penelope Marinos, formerly O’Hara’s PA.

A rogue intelligence agent becomes his target and Hardy stumbles upon a terrible secret that draws them into a violent – and disturbing – confrontation.

My Take

Peter Corris’ latest episode in the Cliff Hardy series SILENT KILL shows clearly he hasn’t lost his touch. He certainly is in the ranks of excellent writers of crime fiction internationally as well as on the Australian stage. As the blurb says, he is “the godfather of Australian crime fiction.”

In Rory O’Hara’s quest to launch a new Australian political party, Australian readers will recognise references to Clive Palmer’s recent, and more successful, bid for Parliament. But someone doesn’t want Rory O’Hara to succeed, and after he is injured when he is run down in the street, Cliff Hardy is employed by a backer to join the campaign and seemingly to protect Rory. Then things get really serious, and not even Cliff Hardy can prevent a murder.

So, a few thousand kilometers later, Cliff Hardy closes in on his quarry. The original financial backer of Rory’s tour has dropped out, but new money from a surprising source has employed Cliff to track down a killer. And it seems Cliff is not the only one on the trail. He will probably be doing someone else a favour.

I haven’t read all the Cliff Hardy series, but I am sure fans will be glad to see that Peter Corris is still hard at work.

My rating: 4.5

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Review: SILENT KILL by Peter Corris

SilentKillCorrisSILENT KILL is only the third of the 39 published Cliff Hardy novels I can recall reading so I’m by no means an expert on the series but after three books I can recognise some patterns.

Cliff Hardy, a Sydney-based private eye, will get involved in a case that appears simple but will turn out not to be. Check. Here Hardy is asked to play bodyguard to Rory O’Hara, a political celebrity about to start a tour that has an evangelical quality to its agenda. But the campaign comes to an end almost before it begins when one of the team is kidnapped then murdered. Later Hardy is hired by the victim’s family to investigate the murder and which ultimately leads him to the shadowy world of espionage.

Cliff will get beaten up or severely injured at least once, struggle not to drink too much and have what is probably an above average amount of sex for the average fifty-something single (ish) bloke. Check.  Cliff’s sort of girlfriend disappears to the US at the beginning of SILENT KILL but it’s not long before Cliff is smitten by Rory O’Hara’s assistant. The not drinking too much and the violence inflicted upon him are of the run-of-the mill variety here.

The story will be peppered with lots of wry, bitingly accurate observations. Check. My favourite one for this book occurs when two of O’Hara’s team are discussing the campaign’s media strategy

‘…[I’m] working on TV. We’re competing with a few local stories’

‘Like what?’ Pen said

‘Drive-by shooting and a footballer’s groin injury…’

If I’d been drinking coffee at the exact moment of reading that passage I’d probably have had to replace the library’s copy of the book after spurting my drink all over the pages. Footballers’ groins are indeed treated as serious news in this country.

I’m too late to the game to be a die-hard fan of the Cliff Hardy novels and the stories do all tend to blur into one fairly quickly after reading them. But I do enjoy the reading of each one. I like the humour and the fact the length of each release hasn’t grown exponentially. I particularly like that even though he’s clearly following a formula Corris doesn’t ‘phone it in’. The cleverness and social commentary that people have remarked on from the earliest days of the series are still there, and though he might be a bit older and slower Cliff does not behave in outlandishly unlikely ways.

Speaking from experience you can start the Cliff Hardy series pretty much anywhere so SILENT KILL is as good a place as any. It’s refreshingly brief, excitingly plotted and has many moments of enjoyable humour.

Publisher: Allen & Unwin [2014]
ISBN: 9781743316375
Length: 254 pages
Format: paperback
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Review: THE DUNBAR CASE by Peter Corris

TheDunbarCaseIn the 38th instalment of novels featuring Sydney-based private detective Cliff Hardy our hero is approached by a historian with a rather unusual request. The man believes he has new information about the wreck of a ship called the Dunbar which sank near the entrance to Sydney Harbour in 1857. History records there being a lone survivor of the tragedy but the professor believes there was a second survivor and that one of this person’s descendents, a man called Johnnie Twizell, may possess relevant documentation to prove it, including a family bible. He needs to involve Hardy in the pursuit of these documents because Twizell is currently serving time in prison for a serious assault and Hardy is more familiar with that setting than the professor himself. Of course things do not run smoothly and Hardy is soon embroiled in the seedier side of life once again.

In a recent radio interview Peter Corris explained that his protagonist has aged at roughly one-third the normal rate which is why he’s managed be only 50-something despite being into his fourth decade of crime fighting while his creator has reached a sprightly 70. So while Cliff has to swallow a collection of pills each day and is surprisingly touched by his role as a grandparent, he isn’t showing too many ill-effects of the ageing process; still keeping fit, working well and even managing a healthy sex-life. He is a no-nonsense kind of character who has a strong sense of morality, though this clashes at times with what might be considered strictly legal. My favourite trait of his is his rather acerbic line of observations about the world around him.

Personally I found the plot a little disappointing not because of any intrinsic faults but rather because it didn’t really continue its focus on the search for documents that would allow the re-writing of history. Instead it veered off into my least favourite crime fiction territory – the seemingly endless shenanigans that abound amongst criminal families and their extended ‘organisations’ I know it’s probably a more realistic arena and a hugely popular one but it does, I’m afraid, bore me absolutely rigid as I simply cannot summon up the necessary emotional engagement when life-long criminals start threatening each other.

That aside, THE DUNBAR CASE is the kind of pleasantly diverting read that a sweltering summer afternoon calls for. It doesn’t attempt to explore any aspect of the human condition but nor does it talk down to its readers and, an increasingly rare thing these days, it isn’t burdened with the irrelevant, boring filler so many of its 500+ page competition suffer from.

Publisher: Allen & Unwin [2013]
ISBN: 9781743310229
Length: 247 pages
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Review: COMEBACK by Peter Corris

For reasons that I am sure are explained in earlier instalments of the series Cliff Hardy has been banned for life from holding a private investigator’s license and has been without that license for more than three years. As this book opens though Cliff is able to take advantage of a relaxation in the suspension rules and soon has his license back, a new office and even a website courtesy of his son-in-law. Finally he can make some much-needed cash. His first client is Bobby Forrest, the son of a former client of Cliff’s, who is apparently being stalked by the tenacious and threatening woman he spent a night with after meeting via an online dating site. Bobby is an up-and-coming actor and is in a promising new relationship so he wants the issue of his stalker to be sorted out quietly if at all possible. When Cliff is only a few days into the case Bobby is murdered and Cliff soon discovers there is an abundance of potential suspects, most of whom drive white commodores.

I don’t feel particularly well qualified to be reviewing this book given it’s the 37th in a series of which I can’t recall reading a single earlier instalment (though I may have done in the years before I kept note of such things). For at least the last few years I’ve thought I really ought to read one given my growing interest in local crime fiction but it is rather daunting to come to such a long running series so late in the game. I was somewhat surprised then to find COMEBACK very easy to get into. Sure I was meeting someone who clearly had a past but enough was explained for me to make sense of the present story and I didn’t feel like I was missing out on insider jokes or anything similar. Conversely, it feels like I could easily go back and read some of the earlier novels without there being too many spoilers from having read a later book in the series. I suspect this particular balance is not as easy to pull off as Corris made it appear.

The mystery is a good one, with plenty of twists and red herrings. There’s a nice mixture of old-fashioned style detecting (stakeouts, following people, getting a bit roughed up) and more technologically dependent work as well. Quite often in crime fiction detectives of a certain age are portrayed as complete technophobes and it rarely rings true for me so it was good to see Cliff, who I took to be somewhere in his 50’s, depicted as being willing to use technology when necessary.

I found Cliff Hardy a likeable enough character though not quite the toughened firebrand I might have expected from what I’ve gleaned of his earlier exploits. Then again we all slow down as we get older and I did rather enjoy the depiction of a man who was both reflecting on his past and looking forward with what seemed like new optimism to his future. The first person narrative and relatively short length of the book don’t allow for too many other characters to be depicted in great depth, though there were several people who added colour and flavour to the story.

I’ve no clue if this instalment would keep fans of the series happy or not but for this new reader COMEBACK proved a pleasantly engaging read, with enough to recommend it that I am keen now to seek out other books in the series (though I can’t imagine ever having the time to read them all). Corris’ dig within the novel at the padded length of much modern crime fiction is suggestive of the reason the book is at the shorter end of the spectrum which is another strong point in its favour.

If anyone can tell me the relevance of the cover to the story I will be eternally grateful. From memory no significant event from the book took place at night or in this kind of back alley so I am forced to ponder whether covers are just random these days.

My rating: 3.5/5 stars (rating scale is explained here)
Author website:
Publisher: Allen & Unwin [2012]
ISBN: 9781742377247
Length: 157 pages ?
Format: eBook (ePub)
Source: I bought it
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Planning your Aussie Crime Fiction Reading for 2012

If you’re signing up to one (or both) of the Australian themed reading challenges for next year you might be looking for some brand new crime fiction to read. Here are some titles that I’m particularly looking forward to

Gary Corby‘s second Athenian mystery set in Ancient Greece has already been released in the US but is only being released in Australia on 3 January 2012. The blurb begins…“ATHENS, 460 B.C. Life’s tough for Nicolaos, the only investigating agent in ancient Athens. His girlfriend’s left him and his boss wants to fire him. But when an Athenian official is murdered, the brilliant statesman Pericles has no choice but to put Nico on the job. The case takes Nico, in the company of a beautiful slave girl, to the land of Ionia within the Persian Empire. The Persians will execute him on the spot if they think he’s a spy. Beyond that, there are just a few minor problems. He’s being chased by brigands who are only waiting for the right price before they kill him. Somehow he has to placate his girlfriend, who is very angry about that slave girl. He must win over Themistocles, the military genius who saved Greece during the Persian Wars, and then defected to the hated enemy. And to solve the crime, Nico must uncover a secret that could not only destroy Athens, but will force him to choose between love, and ambition, and his own life.”  I have just started listening to the audio version of this one (inexplicably available to me to legally purchase whereas the paperback is not available for two more weeks).

Sulari Gentill’s third Rowland Sinclair novel, MILES OFF COURSE, is due out on 30 January 2012 and the publisher’s blurb tells us this…“Opening early in 1933 in the superlative luxury of the Blue Mountains’ Hydro Majestic hotel, Miles off Course finds Rowland Sinclair and his companions ensconced in croquet and pre-dinner cocktails, that is, until the Harry Simpson, vanishes. An Indigenous stockman, Simpson has a hold over the Sinclair brothers that is both mysterious and unusual. The Hydro Majestic is rapidly abandoned for the High Country of NSW where Rowland searches for Simpson and becomes embroiled in a much darker conspiracy” A copy of this one arrived on the doorstep of Fair Dinkum HQ yesterday and I must admit to doing a happy dance (luckily for all concerned there is no video of this hideous sight). I was also chuffed to learn that the fourth book in this series will also be released in 2012. More happy dancing to come.

Peter Corris‘ 39th (I think) Cliff Hardy novel is called COMEBACK and will be released on 30 January 2012. The blurb says “Cliff Hardy has his licence back—but does he still have what it takes to cut it as a PI on the streets of Sydney? Cliff reckons the skills are still there, if a little rusty, and actor Bobby Forrest’s murder case looks promising. His investigations take him deep into the city’s underbelly through inner Sydney, the city’s west, the central coast and the Wollondilly Plains. Along the way, he encounters a range of suspects and motives that put his powers to the test; prostitutes and cops, corporate movers and shakers, a would-be golf guru and a media magnate’s kick-boxing assistant. Only Hardy’s experience, resilience and persistence bring him to a shock understanding of what it’s really all about.” I am determined to read this book even though I have never read any of the predecessors…I do find such a long series a very daunting prospect but I’ll just jump in and see how I go

Katherine Howell‘s fifth Ella Marconi novel is called SILENT FEAR and is due out in Australia on 1 Feb 2012. Here’s the publisher’s blurb “On a searing summer’s day paramedic Holly Garland rushes to an emergency to find a man collapsed with a bullet wound in the back of his head, CPR being performed by two bystanders, and her long-estranged brother Seth watching it all unfold. Seth claims to be the dying man’s best friend, but Holly knows better than to believe anything he says and fears that his re-appearance will reveal the bleak secrets of her past – secrets which both her fiance Fraser and her colleagues have no idea exist, and which if exposed could cause her to lose everything. Detective Ella Marconi suspects Seth too, but she’s also sure the dead man’s wife is lying, and the deceased’s boss seems just too helpful. But then a shocking double homicide related to the case makes Ella realise that her investigations are getting closer to the killer, but also increasing the risk of an even higher body count.”

Are there any Aussie crime books you’re particularly looking forward to getting your hands on next year?