Comeback is the 35th novel Peter Corris has written featuring Sydney-based PI Cliff Hardy since the first, The Dying Trade, was published in 1980. There are also two collections of short stories, ‘Cliff Hardy Cases’.
Comeback opens with a quote from British boxer Alan ‘Boom’ Minter: ‘A boxer makes a comeback for two reasons: either he’s broke or he needs the money.’
The same cannot be said of Corris, a full-time and prolific writer since 1982, known as ‘the godfather of Australian crime fiction’.
In Comeback, Cliff Hardy gets his PI licence reinstated and sets himself up in a new warehouse conversion office in Pyrmont. He is employed by young actor Bobby Forrest who is being stalked by a woman he met on the internet, the woman threatening to harm his girlfriend, Jane. Hardy muses, ‘It was a reversal of the usual stalker scenario, but what could I expect? It was the twenty-first century and we had climate change, an unwinnable war supported by both sides of politics, a minority government and a female prime minister. Change was everywhere.’
When Bobby is killed, shot by someone driving a white Commodore, Hardy is employed by the actor’s father, a former client, to find out who is responsible. The more Hardy investigates, the more possible candidates he exposes—from a Fijian-Indian sex worker, to the kick-boxing standover man of a local high-profile businessman, to a former actor with a grudge—all of whom seem to drive white Commodores.
Reading Cliff Hardy novels is like sitting down with a favourite uncle in a pub and getting him to tell his best stories over a few beers. Corris, like the character he has been writing for over 30 years, has still got it. He knows how to spin a good yarn, seldom stretching it out, keep it fast-paced and tight—though there’s a different energy in Comeback compared with the earlier Cliff Hardy novels. Less violence. Fewer rhetorical flourishes—not that there were many to begin with. There’s the usual political commentary, digs about Melbourne, short-lived bursts of introspection. But Corris keeps it real with Hardy, who must be pushing sixty, and adjusts the pace accordingly.
Corris makes it look easy, and I once heard him say it took him only six weeks for him to write a Cliff Hardy novel. But there’s significant skill in developing a character over 35 outings while allowing readers to pick up any book in the series as a starting point. You don’t need to have read an earlier Cliff Hardy novel before picking up Comeback though, like me, it might make you want to go back and read some of the earlier ones. I’ve just finished reading A Marvellous Boy (1982) and watching the 1985 film version of the 1983 novel The Empty Beach with Bryan Brown as Hardy (see here for a great review of the film). And it’s left me wanting to read more. No problems there.
Corris is a master of the conventions of the genre. By contrast, The Mistake by Wendy James pushes the boundaries of the crime genre. Hear the podcast of my reviews of both books for Radio National Books and Arts Daily here.