Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Peter Corris

I'm always impressed when a writer puts a fresh spin on a well-worn convention. Doing so probably takes more skill than the desperate and self-conscious attempts at originality that some newer writers seem to make.

I've just started The Dying Trade, the first Cliff Hardy novel by Peter Corris, the "father of Australian crime fiction." Hardy, a down-on-the-heels private investigator, gets a call from a rich client just when he needs the money most. I'm guessing you've heard that all before.

At least two things make this opening stand out, though. One is what I'm coming to regard as a characteristically Australian lack of self-pity and irony on the part of the first-person narrator. The other is some fine writing on Corris' part. Here's Hardy after the fateful phone call:

I leaned back in my chair and dropped the receiver onto the handset. I traced a dollar sign with my little finger in the dust beside the dial.

That is a graceful, creative, humorous, maybe even beautiful way of making a familiar point.

© Peter Rozovsky 2006

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Anonymous Hamish said...

Peter, I'm delighted that you've discovered Peter Corris. He can hold his own with anyone in the private-eye genre but to my knowledge has had no luck in finding a US publisher. Why don't you use your pension to start your own imprint specialising in non-American crime writers unknown in the US? There are plenty of them. Corris's backlist alone will keep you going for years.

December 19, 2006  
Blogger Peter said...

Yeow! Peter Corris has an extensive back list; my future pension just got a bit less extensive, so I'll put your suggestion on hold. If I had taken any of my paper's previous buyout offers, then found a job in a non-moribund field, I might have had some extra funds for worthwhile projects.

As it happens, at least one and possibly both of the Corris books I bought (The Dying Trade and O'Fear) are in U.S. editions. My copy of The Dying Trade is a Ballantine mass-market paperback published in 1986. I don’t know if Corris was ever published in hardcover in the U.S.

The front cover of my copy carries the note: “Introducing Cliff Hardy –- Australia’s favorite tough guy private eye –i in a riveting tale of money and murder.” I’m trying to remember if the craze for things Australian had hit the United States back in 1986. That raises the question of how publishers promote “foreign” crime fiction, I suppose.

This edition is a mass-market paperback, unlike, say, the more expensive and perhaps more attractive volumes from Bitter Lemon Press, Soho, Europa Editions, Serpent’s Tail, or the other imprints associated with the current boom in translated crime fiction. (Not just translated; Bitter Lemon is bringing out a novel by Garry Disher next year.) Maybe “foreign” crime fiction, other than your Christies and Rankins, simply will appeal toa different readership from the one the buys mass-market paperbacks.

December 19, 2006  
Blogger Daniel Hatadi said...

Corris' work has been out of print for quite a while, even in Australia. I had to track down a first edition myself.

The man's a machine. His 30th Cliff Hardy came out only recently. I'm sure you could source a copy through abbeys.com.au or booktopia.com.au.

Glad to find another Corris fan!

December 20, 2006  
Blogger Peter said...

Thanks for the note, Daniel, and welcome. As it happens, I found two Corris novels on abebooks.com here in the U.S.

I just took a quick look at your blog, and I'll post there when I'm done here. I may not have a thing for first books in series -- yet. As it happens, though, The Dying Trade is my fourth consecutive book of crime fiction that is the first in a series. I very much enjoyed the first three, and you know that I like Corris so far.

The other thing I noticed is your reference to Raymond Chandler. The scene in the private hospital near the beginning of The Dying Trade, with the looming menace of drugs and "patients" kept against their will, is a staple of Chandler and of 1940s American crime fiction and movies in general. I'm in the middle of that scene now. So far, Corris has rung an interesting change on the convention. He has Cliff Hardy get back up after a beating, and the scene goes on. In the 1940s version, the hero would have been knocked out and drugged right away.

OK, now I'll stop looking for influences and start reading.

December 20, 2006  

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