Peter Corris, See you at the Toxteth: the best of Cliff Hardy and Corris on crime 

Selected by Jean Bedford

Allen & Unwin, 2019, 323 pp., ISBN: 9781760875633, p/bk, AUS$29.99

Many readers will feel privileged to hold one more book from Peter Corris (1942–2018).  See you at the Toxteth: the best of Cliff Hardy and Corris on crime, released a year after the legendary writer’s death, has been carefully put together by Corris’ wife, writer Jean Bedford.

It’s almost impossible to think of modern-day Australian crime writing without thinking of Corris’ creation, Cliff Hardy. The tough talking, fighting and drinking private investigator with old-fashioned values, a beaten up car and cash flow problems burst onto Sydney streets in 1980:

… Vaucluse is several million tons of sandstone sticking out into Port Jackson. The sun always shines on it and the residents think it vulgar to talk about the view. I permitted myself a few vulgar thoughts as I pushed my old Falcon along the sculptured divided highway which wound up to the tasteful mansions and shaven lawns. Mercs and Jags slipped out of driveways. The only other under-ten-thousand-dollar drivers I saw were in a police Holden and they were probably there to see that the white lines on the road weren’t getting dirty. (The Dying Trade p.2)

The Dying Trade was the first of forty-two Hardy cases. A hard-hitting, nail-biting tale that set the scene and the tone for a new type of Australian crime story, it was less concerned with convicts and bushrangers and more worried about greed and corruption. The book generated widespread enthusiasm for tales of good guys taking on bad guys and sparked a renaissance of the crime fiction genre in the southern continent, well away from the main centres of tough tales in the United States, and earned Corris the title of ‘Godfather of Australian Crime Fiction’.

Many years ago, I was given a first edition of Corris’ first novel. The slim hardback has obviously been read numerous times. The pages are yellowed, the boards are rubbed and the dust jacket, now in a protective sleeve, has faded a little over nearly four decades. A few years ago Corris looked a tad surprised when I, after waiting in a long line, handed it over for signing. He turned the book over and smiled. Perhaps he was pleased that, like his most famous protagonist, it was still in one piece. This copy of The Dying Trade sits on my bookcase with the books that followed it … all paperbacks. I like the fact that it looks so different. This is a book that was a gamechanger in what is now a thriving component of the Australian publishing industry.

See you at the Toxteth is a collection of twelve short stories. From the first page of the first story, Hardy is there in all of his laidback glory: ‘I realised I wasn’t at home, I was in hospital. I’ve been in hospital before; the first thing to do is to check that you’ve still got all your bits and pieces and that they haven’t mixed you up with the guy who had gangrene. I moved and wriggled and blinked; everything seemed to work’.(p.3) There’s alcohol, familiar streets, shady characters and the odd beautiful woman. There are also the classic, and obligatory, one-liners: ‘I’m no judge of literature, but this reads like at least pretty fair journalism to me’.(p.160) Hardy doesn’t always come out of a case with a neat win but, in true hardboiled tradition, he comes as close to winning as his world will allow. As Bedford notes, these stories sometimes finish ‘with the case unsolved, but always with some sort of resolution along the way’.(p 2)

Following the short stories is An ABC of Crime Writing. A is for action, adultery, age and alcohol (pp.224–25), L is for laboratory, Latin tag, loan sharking, locality, locked room and love.(pp.252–53) A personal favourite of mine in this alphabetised list is R which ‘is also for robbery. This is a minor crime in the writer’s lexicon but it often acts as a precursor to the central business, which is murder’.(p.269) Indeed. It’s a practical, and often humorous, guide that lays out Corris’ thinking on the genre he did so much for while also acknowledging some of his greatest predecessors.

Also making the cut is a selection of his ‘Godfather Columns’ from the Newtown Review of Books, looking at crime and crime writing, and a definitive list of Corris’ publications, fiction and non-fiction. We can, as we read his crime fiction—for which he won a Ned Kelly Lifetime Achievement Award in 1999—easily forget Corris was, too, a talented writer of non-fiction and his outputs include biography, sport and histories of the Pacific.

The final lines of prose are those of Peter Corris. In reflecting on the forty-second Cliff Hardy novel he wrote:

So I had no idea this book would be my last when I wrote it and that’s good. Knowing that could have imparted a tone—perhaps regret, perhaps self-pity—wholly inappropriate to Cliff. As it was, I gave it an ending intrinsic to the story, a very Cliff Hardy ending. And I’m happy with it.(p.318)

Readers are happy with it too. See you at the Toxteth is available now.

Reviewed by Dr Rachel Franks, August 2019

For a preview of the book or to purchase online, visit the publisher’s website here.

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