The Cliff Hardy series written by Peter Corris is now over 30 books strong and forms a formidable cornerstone for Australian detective writing. Back in 1980 Cliff was introduced to the world as a hard-drinking tough guy with a ready wit that he was willing to unleash on deserving stuffed shirts. This article is the first in a series that will map Cliff’s development through the years and will present and dissect each book, highlighting notable quotes, the appearance of regular characters and other features important in the sculpting of Australia’s foremost fictional detective.
Indroducing Cliff Hardy
We meet Cliff Hardy in the exact spot from where all private detectives worth their salt should be introduced, behind his shabby desk in his shabby office. In this case no-one walks into his office, instead the phone rings and he is summonsed to the home of Bryn Gutteridge at Vaucluse, one of Sydney’s most exclusive addresses.
Quite a lot can be gleaned about Cliff Hardy from the very opening paragraph of the series, aspects about his life that would come up numerous times throughout the next 30 books:
“I was feeling fresh as a rose that Monday at 9.30 a.m. My booze supply had run out on Saturday night. I had no way of replenishing it on the Sabbath because we still had Sunday prohibition in Sydney then. I didn’t have a club; that’d gone a while before, along with my job as an insurance investigator. I also didn’t have a wife – not any more – or friends with well-filled refrigerators. Unless I could be bothered driving twenty-five miles to become a bona fide traveller, Sunday could be as dry as a Mormon meeting hall. I didn’t travel. I spent the day on Bondi beach and the evening with tonic water and Le Carre, so I was clear-headed and clean-shaven, doodling on the desk blotter, when the phone rang.”
He doesn't mention her by name (yet) but his ex-wife Cyn is briefly spoken of. Cyn appears in a short story in Heroin Annie, but she is constantly in Hardy's thoughts and is mentioned at some point in the majority of the books. One gets the feeling he never really gets over her.
A feature of many of the Cliff Hardy books is the way in which the locale is described through Hardy’s eye. He warms things up in The Dying Trade when he visits the exclusive suburb of Vaucluse.
Vaucluse is several million tons of sandstone sticking out into Port Jackson. The sun shines on it and the residents think it vulgar to talk about the view. I permitted myself a few vulgar thoughts as I pushed my old Falcon along the sculptured divided highway which wound up to the tasteful mansions and shaved lawns.
We get a description of Cliff from the man himself as he is about to meet his first client:
The rich always have lots of mirrors in their houses because they like what they see in them. We passed at least six full-length jobs on the trek which put expensive frames around a thinnish man with dark wiry hair, scuffed suede shoes and an air of not much money being spent on upkeep.
And it’s always fun to examine the experience of someone being knocked out as long as it’s not ourselves. When it comes to Cliff Hardy, this is the first of many such instances:
I caught a glimpse of a man with a bandaged face sitting on a bed before I felt like I’d been dumped by a gigantic wave : a ton of metal tried to tear my head from my shoulders and sandbags crashed into my belly and knees. I went down into deep dark water watching a pin-point of light which dimmed, dimmed and died.
Hardy becomes introspective as the case becomes complicated:
The villain was in custody as they say, but villains were coming out of the woodwork and the past was sending out tentacles which were winding around thePlot Summary
necks of people living and dying in the present. It’s a dying trade I’m in.
Cliff is hired by Bryn Gutteridge because his sister is being harassed via threatening phone calls and letters. She is so affected by the harassment that she has checked herself into a clinic where she is undergoing treatment to deal with the shock. It’s Cliff’s job to find the source of the calls and report back to Gutteridge.
In short order Cliff initiates 2 explosive confrontations the like of which fans of the series will become used to as typical of Hardy’s aggressive style. The first of these comes when he intercedes in a domestic dispute between Ailsa Sleeman (Bryn and Susan Gutteridge’s stepmother) and her toy boy, chucking the bloke in the backyard swimming pool. The second comes when he shows up at the Longueville clinic to see Susan, confronts the clinic’s owner, Dr Ian Brave, pushing his weight around and getting himself knocked out for the first time in the series.
By the time he scrapes himself up and makes it home nursing the first impressions he has made, Bryn Gutteridge rings to call him off the case in fear for his life. Hard on the heels of this setback comes a call from Ailsa Sleeman – she now wants to hire Hardy after an attempt is made on her life. Some major upheaval was taking place in the whole family and Cliff is now well and truly roped into it.
What follows is a case that grows in complexity as Gutteridge family secrets are unearthed and picked apart revealing the kind of intrigue that threatens to rip it completely apart. Fortunately with Cliff Hardy’s sharp mind complemented by an even sharper tongue we are guided through a mystery that culminates in the most amazing (and unexpected) ending.Random Facts of InterestThe following are peculiarities about Hardy that you will find are updated as the series progresses
- Cliff’s office is located in St Peters St, Kings Cross.
- He lives in a small two-storey sandstone terrace in Glebe close to the dog track.
- His fees are $200 retainer plus $60 a day expenses.
- He smokes roll-your-own cigarettes.
- Drinking plays a major part in Cliff’s life at this stage. It appears that Peter Corris intended to give Hardy all of the PI vices common to the great hardboiled detectives.
- He drives an old Ford Falcon and parks it in the backyard of a tattoo parlour for $10 a week.
- He is knocked out by a blow to the back of the head once in this book.
- His first wife – Cyn – is mentioned twice by name during the course of The Dying Trade and is referred to in the opening paragraph.
Bryn Gutteridge - Cliff's first client, a rich bastard living in Vaucluse.
Susan Gutteridge - Bryn's brother, Cliff first meets her in a clinic where she is undergoing psychiatric treatment.
Dr Ian Brave - psychologist who runs the clinic in Longueville.
Ailsa Sleeman - stepmother of Bryn and Susan, she will later hire Cliff when her life is threatened. She also provides a brief romantic interlude for our intrepid investigator.
Harry Tickener - an up and coming journalist who was caught tailing Cliff. This will be far from the last time we meet this resourceful hack.
Grant Evans - Cliff's contact in the NSW Police Force.
Note: If you have a copy of a book with a cover that is different to the covers displayed in this article would you mind emailing me a copy of the cover please.
First Edition : Hardcover
Publisher : McGraw Hill Book Company
Date Published : 1980
ISBN : 0 07 072928X
No pages : 229
Next book : White Meat