Peter Corris’s Cliff Hardy series is the gift that keeps on giving for fans of no-frills, Australian-noir detective fiction. That Empty Feeling is the forty-first Cliff Hardy book and contains all of the hallmarks of the series – a well-paced mystery, plenty of twists and reverses, a bit of sex and violence and economical, pitch-perfect descriptions of Sydney locales. That Empty Feeling has an extra twist in that, told in flashback, it now counts also as historical crime fiction.
On seeing the obituary of colourful character Barry Bartlett, Cliff reminisces to his daughter about the man and the case that involved him. The case itself involves Cliff looking into a man claiming to be Barry’s son. Barry had two children who, many years before, had been taken back to England by their mother and he wants to make sure the man claiming to be his son is the real deal. But of course, being a Cliff Hardy story, nothing is that straight forward or simple and before long he is involved with a murder, a kidnapping, the Federal Police and crime on a much larger scale.
Set some time in the late 80s, this device allows an ageing, heart-problem ridden Hardy to return to his drinking and brawling prime. It also gives Corris the ability to revisit many parts of Sydney such as Darlinghurst, Alexandria and Paddington, when they were on the cusp of the gentrification boom. He is also able to feature characters such as policeman Frank Parker and journalist Harry Tickener at a earlier point in their relationship with Cliff. This is, literally, vintage Corris, a story that could have been written at the time but with the added twist of nostalgia and knowledge of what is to come.
Corris has refined his craft as a master of the noir-detective genre. That Empty Feeling, while not providing anything startlingly new, is yet another enjoyable outing for Hardy fans.