The author, Tim Maleeny has chosen to go down the wise-cracking PI route and it does serve him pretty well. What doesn’t is a plot that is a little too long on action and short on depth. There are only so many times Cape can fall into the hands of the bad guys and be rescued by Sally before it begins to become a little stale.
GREASING THE PINATA does have some genuinely humourous moments, However, the fight scenes and action sequences overshadow them. My opinion is coloured because I’m not really an action fan. It’s fine on the movie screen, but for the most part I find it tedious in books.
If you’re looking for a quick pacey read, then GREASING THE PINATA might work for you. If you want something with more substance and credibility you may find yourself disappointed.
DEEP WATER - Peter Corris
Stripped of his private detective licence and devastated by the murder of his partner Lily Truscott, Cliff Hardy travels to the US to help Lily's brother's tilt for a world boxing title. In San Diego he suffers a heart attack and undergoes a quadruple bypass. He meets nurse Margaret McKinley, an expatriate Australian who is concerned about the disappearance in Sydney of her father, renowned geologist Dr Henry McKinley.
Cliff's back - Lazarus with a quadruple bypass no less. He's resigned to never getting his licence back and his agency is now in the hands of his daughter Megan and her PI boyfriend. He still misses Lily, and he's still driving "a" trusty Falcon, and he's no longer so pressed for money.
More importantly, he's lucky to be alive.
Recovering from a quadruple bypass has it's own challenges - the exercise requirements, the pills that have to be taken for the rest of your life, the limitations that the awareness of mortality places on you, and there are glimpses, possibly for the first time ever, of Hardy's mortality in DEEP WATER. Mind you, the reader can't help but pause to consider the author's own brush with heart problems (Corris has also not so long ago undergone a quadruple bypass). In DEEP WATER Cliff returns as one of those perennial fictional heroes, sure if you paid close attention to his life's history, he's "in theory" well into his seventies by now, but if you don't look too closely then you're never going to know. There is more than just some signs of physical frailty about Cliff in this book, there's something obviously reflective about him as well - he isn't going to forget the death of Lily, he looks back at the death of his ex-wife Cynthia, and then there is his relationship building with Megan, the daughter who, for so many years, he didn't know existed. But this is Cliff we're talking about and there is only so much reflection and physical care that you can take, and he's not above a beeline for the closest cold beer, a seriously good meal and a fragile woman, destined to love and leave him, alone again.
Investigating the disappearance of Henry McKinley is the perfect vehicle for Cliff's return - whilst Megan and her boyfriend Hank are the official component, Cliff is able to dig around into the background of McKinley, whose better than good persona rapidly slips away. Working unofficially does have its downside, and there is a corrupt cop who has been waiting for a chance to have a go at Cliff for many years. As the investigation gets closer to the mark corruption, greed, money and sex all line up as possible motivations.
Then right at the end, despite all of Cliff's health problems, Corris cannot resist one more bit of personal jeopardy and one more personal disappointment just to give Cliff something to chew on for the future.
DEEP WATER is the 34th Cliff Hardy book, the last few really have dealt with a major transition in Cliff's life as he loses his lover, his licence and this time - very nearly his life. Mind you, Cliff dying of a heart attack on the pier in San Diego would have been profoundly distressing - if he has to go, he has to go in the back streets of Glebe, preferably with a beer in hand (not that there's any particular hint that he's on his way I might add). But there is definitely a feeling of further transition in DEEP WATER. Let's hope Cliff isn't going to slip quietly into the role of the voice of experience and wisdom. Here's hoping for a bit more kicking and screaming along the way.
PUNTER'S TURF - Peter Klein
John Punter, professional gambler and amateur private investigator, has seen his fair share of crime and shady dealings, both on the horse track and off it. So when the daughter of a bookmaker friend is abducted, following hot on the heels of a gruesome murder after an abduction-gone-wrong, Punter's offer of help is gladly accepted.
Peter Klein has spent a lifetime in the horse racing industry, working for some of Australia's top trainers such as TJ Smith and Bart Cummings. He was once a strapper of champion galloper Kingston Town. It's therefore not all that surprising that he has set PUNTER'S TURF firmly in the horse racing world, with a good balance between the horse racing and mystery elements. There is enough atmosphere to give the events a real sense of place, there's enough sprinkling of horse racing terminology to provide a sense of reality, but it's not overplayed or impossible for the average reader to follow. A reader with absolutely no interest in betting and horse racing in general isn't going to be bored witless by the details.
John Punter comes from a horse racing dynasty in his own right, but he has left his father's stables and set up as a professional punter - somebody who makes their living betting on horse races. So he knows a lot about the people and the workings of the industry - he spends most of his days studying horse form - and therefore the stables, the trainers and the people who work in the industry. He knows a lot of the personalities around the tracks - the bookies, track detectives, petty criminals, other punters, the Salvos. It's a perfect cover for somebody who needs to poke around in an industry that is the connection for the kidnappings and the murders.
It is a kidnapping that first gets Punter involved in this case. Luckily the second victim is returned to her family alive, but the case seems to just keep getting more and more complicated as a trainer starts to have an inexplicable run of bad luck and a young jockey is killed by a horse.
Quintessentially Australian, John Punter lives in a world that revolves around horse racing, whilst also delving into some of the finer points of Melbourne life - the food and the social life. He's a nicely balanced character - somewhat rumpled, unlucky in love but still in there batting below average, he's pretty content with his lot. He's surrounded by some larger than life characters including bookmakers, trainers and jockeys who are exactly what you'd hope to find at a racecourse. Obligatory warning - there is animal cruelty which in one case provides an impetus for Punter to continue his involvement at one point, in another is part of the nature of the people that he's dealing with. Neither instance is particularly pleasant - but then neither are the people that Punter's searching for. Both instances however are not going to be pleasant for readers who really object to the use of that in their crime fiction, even though there does appear to be a reason (and consequences) for it. There are also some convenient happenings designed to keep the hero in the game (so to speak). These could have been slightly annoying events, but Punter's the sort of bloke that seems perfectly capable of the occasional brain freeze that can lead to some very messy consequences.
PUNTER'S TURF really is a very enjoyable read overall. It's part thriller and part amateur investigation, set in a world that's vaguely familiar, whilst sufficiently different from the normal humdrum to generate interest in its own right. John Punter's a good character - not foolhardy, but not timid, he seems like your normal average sort of a bloke. He will help a mate if called upon, he'll even risk life and limb, he'll have a go at doing the right thing and thinking through the consequences but when push comes to shove - he's not above the occasional daft moment.
LOVE IS IN THE AIR-CONDITIONING, Scott Bywater
Self-appointed private eye Sam Chauvel, fresh from unearthing Wil Dreamsworth, takes on the corporate world.
He goes undercover at consulting powerhouse HemmingsLloyd, a small firm that thinks big, rubbing shoulders with the wheelers and dealers, movers and shakers, legends and masters of methodology. Who will help him, who will lead him astray? Who is this Britney Spitz, the temp receptionist - could she be the answer to his sensuo-spiritual and other needs?
The answer is blowing in the wind ... or is there love in the air-conditioning?
This is one of those little books that I've been keeping an eye out for over the last few years, finally tracking down a copy recently. At 141 pages it was just the right size for dropping into the suitcase that we're dragging backwards and forwards between houses at the moment.
Mind you, I didn't really know what to expect with the book, the blurb mentions private investigation and consulting firms, but it doesn't really give much else away. It turns out that Sam has been called in to investigage possible financial irregularities. One of the partners thinks that somebody is ripping off his earnings. Mind you, none of the partners seem to get on all that well, but having said that, they are sort of bit players anyway. Mostly the book is about Sam - Sam's life, the way he thinks, the way he sort of wanders around the investigation and his sexual and romantic conquests.
In novella form, the book is really all about Sam - Sam is a bit of a devil may care, lone wolf, with a heart of gold and a complicated personal life (so no real surprises there!). It was quite an amusing little book though, although I will confess I spent most of it a bit confused about what the supposed crime was supposed to be and whether Sam would ever stop drinking coffee and chasing the receptionist for long enough to concentrate.
Okay, so the twist is very obvious and the investigation prefunctory to say the least, LOVE IS IN THE AIR-CONDITIONING is more of an amusement than an enlightenment (if you know what I mean). But it did work as a diversion for a little while.
ANGELS UNAWARE - Mike Ripley
Roy Angel is a Private Investigator. He is the token male at an all female agency. His wife, a successful fashion designer, has recently given birth to their first child.. But there’s a fly in Angel’s blissful ointment. The Agency is insisting he is not entitled to extended paternity leave and his mother has descended upon them to “help” with the baby. Angel’s mum is a bit eccentric. She’s a hippy with a penchant for trouble and has the maternal instincts of a doorknob. Angel takes on the job of searching for a missing script writer. The bank financing the film is getting jumpy because the final draft of the script is past due and the writer hasn’t been seen in nearly two weeks. The investigation takes Angel out of his comfort zone of London into the wilds of Yorkshire. He is aided by fellow PI Ossie Oesterlein, a very large man with an even larger appetite, who lives at home with his mum and is into line dancing in a big way. So just how does a search for a missing man end in a murder hunt with Angel staring down the barrel of a loaded gun contemplating his own death? And what does a Polish porn star have to do with it?The story is told from Angel’s perspective. As the narrator, Angel’s voice is highly amusing; particularly the banter between himself and Ossie. These two are about an unlikely a pair as you’ll ever come across. His wife’s increasing exasperation and annoyance at Angel’s extended absence from the martial home is also very entertaining, as is his mother’s antics. The author, Mike Ripley, deftly changes both the tempo and mood of the plot as what begins as a routine missing person case and a jaunt to the north becomes a matter of life and death for Angel. ANGELS UNAWARE is a light-hearted detective yarn with a somewhat dark centre. I was surprised to learn that ANGELS UNAWARE is the fifteenth in the Angel series. I must look out for more. Mike Ripley’s Roy Angel has slipped under my radar until now. Don’t let it slip under yours.
MURDER ON A MIDSUMMER NIGHT - Kerry Greenwood
Melbourne, 1929. The year starts off for glamorous private investigator Phryne Fisher with a rather trying heat wave and more mysteries than you could prod a parasol at. Simultaneously investigating the apparent suicide death of a man on St Kilda beach and trying to find a lost, illegimate child who could be heir to a wealthy old woman's fortune, Phryne needs all her wits about her, particularly when she has to tangle with a group of thoroughly unpleasant Bright Young Things.
The most elegant investigator returns in her seventeenth escapade to investigate an apparent suicide and a missing heir. The start of 1929 is particularly wearisome for the plucky heroine as a heatwave has hit Melbourne with a vengeance. It is so hard to think when one is so hot – but think Phryne must as she does battle with a particularly dangerous group of bright young things who are dabbling in the occult.
The two cases are separate, but gradually links connect the investigations. Phryne has to deal with weeping mothers, angry son-in laws, drug addicts, terrifying seances, ghosts, spirit guides and treasure hunters before she can solve the mysteries.
Reading a Phryne Fisher mystery such as MURDER ON A MIDSUMMER NIGHT is always very good fun. Cosy with an edge, author Kerry Greenwood takes the sting out of the evil side of life with humour, friendship and some very off the wall characters. Phryne herself is a rich and independent woman who drinks, is not afraid to have casual sex, smokes her gaspers, drives her car fast with little or no regard of road rules, and solves mysteries. Phryne is always on the side of the underdog, and will battle anyone be they rich or poor, exploitative or abusive.
OPEN FILE - Peter Corris
Cliff Hardy is cleaning out his office after losing his Private Investigator's licence. He comes across a folder with the paperwork for a missing person's case going back to 1988, Australia's Bi-centennial year.
OPEN FILE is a look back at how Cliff did his job twenty years ago. It is remarkable to note just how much technology has changed our lives in the twenty years since that landmark year in Australia's history. It was an era before the common use of mobile phones - when you could still find a public phone booth and put a coin in the slot. There was no internet to use as a reference to find people and information. These things have become so much a part of our daily lives that we forget what life was like before we had them.
Peter Corris' writing style is to the point. He gets straight to the story and doesn't waste words. He also manages to evoke a very strong sense of Sydney. Corris knows these streets, he's had a beer at the pubs and a cup of coffee at the coffee shops. There is a reason why Corris is referred to as the "godfather of Australian crime fiction" and if you are wondering why, then one of his Cliff Hardy books will answer the question.
THE ROAR OF THE BUTTERFLIES - Reginald Hill
The Joe Sixsmith series is much more light-hearted than Mr Hill's other, well known Dalziel and Pascoe series. Partly because Joe is a gifted amateur Private Investigator and partly because of Joe's own personality. He takes his responsibilities seriously, but he doesn't take himself all that seriously. Of course his Aunt Mirabelle and his girlfriend Beryl are always standing by, ready to shoot down any signs of Joe getting ahead of himself.
He is somewhat surprised though to find himself confronted by a YFG (Young Fair God). On a day when the heat is causing him to hallucinate anyway, the vision of Chris Porphyry and his posh car in Joe's office area is a bit of a surprise. That Chris could have been accused of cheating at golf is just a bit beyond the pale. And Joe is not the only person who thinks it's just not possible - most of the golf course staff and members seem to agree. Joe is hired by Chris to prove his innocence, and what Joe finds is some serious nefarious goings on in the great Royal Hoo Club of Luton.
A bit of fun, a bit tongue in cheek, the Joe Sixsmith series combines the lone PI with a heart of gold, with an investigation style that owes a lot more to persistence than might; a man content with his lot in life - which is being managed quite nicely by his girlfriend and his aunt.
UNDER ORDERS - Dick Francis
Dick Francis has been a hugely successful author over a period of thirty years and has a devoted following. It has been many years since I read any of his novels which I used to enjoy. However, I found myself struggling with UNDER ORDERS. I’m not sure if my tastes have changed or if Mr Francis is not at the top of his game in this novel. There seemed to be a great deal of over-explaining which slowed the pace down. There was a lot of detail about the racing industry and online betting; more than I felt I needed to know. Nor was it really necessary to know the detailed back-story of nearly every major character who appeared in the book.. There was also much made of the fact that Sid has an artificial arm. We were told the history of how he lost his arm and his battle to come to terms with it. As this is the sixth in the Sid Halley series, I’m sure regular readers knew all this before and for a first time reader, it wasn’t all necessary. I had fond memories of earlier Dick Francis novels but sadly, UNDER ORDERS didn’t live up to those memories.
THE BIG SCORE - Peter Corris
In this new collection of short stories, Cliff Hardy has his hands full with murder, blackmail, embezzlement and more. True to form, Cliff doesn't waste words or pull punches as he untangles an ugly divorce, investigates the killing of a Glebe drinking buddy, and takes care of a nasty case of blackmail. The eleven tales are set in Cliff's Sydney, a place with no shortage of thugs, mid-morning beers and crooked cops.
There are probably more, but immediate reactions on getting a book of short stories, is that there are precious few Crime Fiction short story collections by Australian authors around (I'm probably about to be proven totally wrong!). But there's something very engaging about a good collection - engaging enough to make you find yourself volunteering to run the errands, wait outside for whatever or whoever - because it will give you a precious few minutes or so to read another of this collection.
Cliff finds himself named as a killer in the dying breathe of a victim; tracks a team of tree poisoners; sorts out where the money went in a messy divorce; finds the killer of a local identity; gets taken in by the sting; tracks a kidnapped wife; searches for the ex and daughter of a dying man; explains the odd training regime; discovers the truth behind the wreath at an elderly woman's funeral; gets confused by the bookworm; and heads off into the bush for basic army-style training. All in Cliff's inimitable, wise-cracking, hard man with a heart style.
THE BIG SCORE is a collection that will work for a lot of readers - as a palate cleanser between other books; to bring you back to Cliff after a time away; as an introduction to the sparse, clever style of Corris; or simply because you'd be tempted to read a shopping list that Corris wrote.