“The Empty Beach” is about private investigator Cliff Hardy’s routine investigation into a supposed drowning. Beautiful client Marion Singer wants to find out the truth behind the mysterious disappearance of her wealthy husband John Singer. The truth about John Singer, illegal trader and poker machine guru, is hard to find among the drug addicts, alcoholics and ashrams of Bondi Beach in Sydney. Not to mention the hindrance of PhD rich girl Ann Winter and creepy jailer Mary Mahoud. Hardy soon finds himself fighting for his life when his search for the truth involves some nasty venues controlled by an underworld of violent people and lead by kingpin Freddy Ward who does not appreciate his inquisitive nature.
Being an earlier novel, Hardy is ex-army, a law student dropout, insurance company investigator turned private eye who lives by a solid set of values. And he’s seen many gruesome murders in his time. Throughout Hardy shows understanding and tolerance of people from all walks of life, he embraces the city sprawl and the rural ethos, and doesn’t start a fight. But he can be tough and not play nice when it comes to his own survival. He has a habit, when in a tight situation, of jesting at the bad guy’s expense and consequently coping a beating. This is well illustrated in the chapter where Hardy is imprisoned inside a squash court.
My suggestion is read “The Dying Trade” the first Cliff Hardy book in Peter Corris 40+ series even though a later book “The Empty Beach” was made into an Australian movie in 1985 and remains his archetypal crime story. Based on Peter Corris 1983 novel of the same name, this movie starred Bryan Brown as Cliff Hardy and such notables as Belinda Giblin, Ray Barrett, John Wood, Joss McWilliam and Nick Tate as the ill-fated Henneberry.
Now I’ve got that out of the way, let me say that one of the most enduring (and for me, best loved) of Australian crime fiction characters is Cliff Hardy. While you may like to read the more current books like “Silent Kill” (above) the earlier ones are classic Australia in the 80s and 90s and my favourite is “Wet Graves”. They have changed with the times, think internet and iPhones, and contain physical changes to Cliff Hardy at the same time they happened to the author. For example, smoking habits or the triple bypass heart surgery Peter Corris underwent and kindly passed on to Cliff Hardy. The relationship breakdowns do not appear to apply too much to real life. However, the easy-going narrative speaks volumes, both men having a genuine affection for their family, the city of Sydney, and its diverse citizenry.
Fast forward to ‘spoilers’ and Hardy is deregistered and operates on his own initiative but still maintains a rock-solid sense of fair play in the 21st century. To date, Hardy’s longtime friend Frank Parker is now a retired senior police officer and married to Hilde, Hardy’s ex flatmate. The reader watches this friendship evolve through a chain of novels and it’s just as interesting as following Hardy’s love life and family expansion. Although he still holds a torch for his ex-wife Cyn. And there’s cameos from characters like tattooist Primo Tomasetti with his graphic artwork and sleazy patter.
Cliff Hardy represents the kind of bloke many law-abiding citizens would like to have on their side, a blemish yet dependable man who’d share a joke or reminisce over a cold beverage. When it comes to Aussie mystery solving, Hardy gets my vote every time.
♥ Gretchen Bernet-Ward