Review - That Empty Feeling, Peter Corris
The forty-first Cliff Hardy book came out earlier this year. That Empty Feeling is classic Cliff Hardy - stripped down, hardboiled, quintessentially Australian-noir ticking all the required boxes - pace, twists, turns, sex, violence and pitch-perfect dialogue. This time around, the cynicism and world-weariness have a little poignancy attached to them as well. The discovery of the obituary of an old client - Barry Bartlett sets Hardy off reminiscing, harking back to the late 1980's.
Back then, Hardy had taken on a case for Bartlett sorting out a family mystery. Barry's two children, and their mother, had returned to England many years before and the question now was whether the man who had returned was indeed the son he claimed to be. This is well before Google, Social Media and DNA were available, but even allowing for some old-fashioned checking methods, you'd think it wouldn't have been that difficult to resolve. But this is a Cliff Hardy investigation, and nothing's ever as simple as it seems.
Setting the action back in the 1980's has allowed Corris to revisit the time of some of Hardy's greatest excesses. The stuff that probably gave him his current day heart condition, and a large part of his general demeanour. Taking Hardy back also provides plenty of opportunity to reminisce about the inner-Sydney suburbs as they were - before living there became trendy. It's not hard to see a certain sense of regret at what's been lost in those places, along with the sorts of activities that Hardy himself is no longer up for - he might still be able to throw a few punches and drink a couple of glasses of wine, but his days of excessive drinking and hefty brawling are long gone.
For long-term fans of this series there are some wonderfully poignant touches, early days in friendships with ongoing characters such as cop Frank Parker and journo Harry Tickener, none of which detract from the story itself - which ends up revealing a lot about Bartlett, and the corporate excesses and shenanigans of the time.
Part of the power of That Empty Feeling is that sense of looking backwards to a time when Hardy and his mates were younger, fitter and fearless. It's also a story very much of that time - a world away from now - where life was a lot less regulated, risks seemed a lot more fun, information was a lot more guarded, and we were all a lot freer because of it. Because of that viewpoint it's hard not to sense a slightly sadder side to Hardy. He seems to have reached that stage in life where reading obituaries is a morning ritual, and the past has always been a much happier place. Here's hoping his excursion back in time has reminded him that there were a lot worse things in the 1980's than big hair and awful taste in clothes.
An unexpected obituary takes Cliff Hardy on a trip down memory lane to a case he's been trying to forget for twenty years: oil, fraud, boxing, racing - and murder.
One case still haunts Hardy
Legendary PI Cliff Hardy has reached an age when the obituaries have become part of his reading, and one triggers his memory of a case in the late 1980s. Back then Sydney was awash with colourful characters, and Cliff is reminded of a case involving 'Ten-Pound Pom' Barry Bartlett and racing identity and investor Sir Keith Mountjoy.
Bartlett, a former rugby league player and boxing manager, then a prosperous property developer, had hired Hardy to check on the bona fides of young Ronny Saunders, newly arrived from England, and claiming to be Bartlett's son from an early failed marriage. The job brought Hardy into contact with Richard Keppler, head of the no-rules Botany Security Systems, Bronwen Marr, an undercover AFP operative, and sworn adversary Des O'Malley.
At a time when corporate capitalism was running riot, an embattled Hardy searched for leads - was Ronny Saunders a pawn in a game involving big oil and fraud on an international scale? Two murders raise the stakes and with the sinister figure of Lady Betty Lee Mountjoy pulling the strings, it was odds against a happy outcome.