The Dying Trade, Peter Corris

Reviewed By
Karen Chisholm

The end of the Cliff Hardy series was announced when WIN, LOSE OR DRAW was released in 2017, and then with the subsequent death of Peter Corris, I made a promise to myself to re-read this excellent series, every year, during the Boxing Day Test, as I'd been doing with every new release.

The problem is I can't count and simple arithmetic defeats me, but even I've now managed to work out that 2020+41 = 2061. As I'm unlikely to still be alive in 2061, I'd better get a move on because I'm determined that I will re-read the Cliff Hardy series from start to finish before I too die. So, with fingers crossed on at least a few years left, that means a minimum of 2 books a year. Might make that 4 just in case. 

In 1982 the Commodore 64 8-bit computer was released; Malcolm Fraser was PM and Bill Hayden was Opposition Leader; autobiographer Albert Facey died; the movies Monkey Grip and Running on Empty, as well as Far East were released (starring Bryan Brown who was also in the movie THE EMPTY BEACH, based on the Cliff Hardy novel of the same name); athlete Ian Thorpe was born and THE DYING TRADE was first published.

When Text Publishing re-released THE DYING TRADE in 2012 as part of their "Text Classics" series, they included a quotation from The Age:

‘A quintessentially Australian literary icon.’

That quote sums up the entire Cliff Hardy experience to a tee. Succinct and pointed, as all these novels are, Cliff Hardy is quintessentially Australian. From the Ford he drives, to the city he lives in, the pubs he drinks in, his propensity to wade in where others may have feared to tread, his dry, acerbic wit and laid back style, a propensity (in the early novels) to drink and smoke way too much, and his absolute refusal to age (gracefully or disgracefully). Cliff Hardy was always our Australian lone wolf, and over the 42 books in this series, he indeed became a literary icon.

THE DYING TRADE is an introductory novel. Right from the start it sets a standard that readers came to expect. It's pointed, it's dry, it's observational and it gets on with "it". Whatever "it" is, there are always some givens. Hardy will take a case that he probably shouldn't, he will care, he'll get a thumping along the way, he'll solve the case, he might even get the girl, but he'll lose her again, and he'll return to his small terrace house, park his Ford out the front, open a bottle of wine, stare at the walls and spend a few moments wondering about what could have been. Never long, never drawn out, never overly reflective.

Early 1980's Sydney is a world away from current day Sydney and yet in many ways it's not, and the Hardy series is a testament to the similarities and changes. Hardy is a product of this place, and he inhabits a world that Peter Corris seemed to love, understand and despair of. The descriptive elements of the novels are beautifully done, crisp, pointed, short, sharp, Corris was a master at the art of the precise and the pithy. 

It's comforting to go back to the start of such a long series and see that right from the start there's the pattern, the style and the structure that carried forward for so many years. You can also see very clearly, after a long, drawn out battle to get publishers to take note and realise that we needed to hear stories in our own voices, set in our own locations, that they were bloody lucky to get the Cliff Hardy series.

Year of Publication
Book Number (in series)

Hardy needs work. In fact, he's the type of detective who never turns down a case. He can't afford to.

So when wealthy Bryn Gutteridge, a real estate heir who amuses himself by shooting seagulls, asks Hardy to find out who has been threatening his twin sister, Susan, the private eye agrees. And finds himself on a case that turns more brutal every day.

First Gutteridge's butler is murdered. Then his pretty young stepmother is badly beaten. Hardy himself takes a few punches. And before long it's hard to tell the victims from the villains.

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