Okay, let’s not get into the smell and feel of real books because I am only concentrating on the thickness of real books.
I thought the great hulking bulkiness of the doorstop blockbuster novel was long gone – not so when it comes to Robert Galbraith (worst kept pseudonym ever!) and her Cormoran Strike private detective series.
You know the one, the war veteran who lost half his leg, and his assistant like Robin in Batman, that’s it Robin, she’s really the most interesting character in these crime novels.
But I digress.
What I really want to say is that I find big heavy books daunting, not because they are big and heavy but because they had better have a really clever plot, plenty of drama, lots of tension, rip-roaring action and a nice twisty ending.
I want my money’s worth!
Which, in this case, isn’t relevant because I borrowed the big bruiser from the library – long live libraries – but I certainly hope this fifth installment lives up to its hype and dimensions.
My loan copy of “Troubled Blood” is fresh and unsullied as you can see in my first angle shot. When I look at the bold spine in my second shot, it doesn’t seem nearly as daunting. Bonus: inside I discovered the author’s hand-drawn illustrations.
Don’t worry, I am not writing a three-part posting on the joys and disappointments of reading J K Rowling’s (oops, Robert Galbraith’s) latest literary endeavour.
Book 4 ‘Lethal White’ has 647 pages but at 927 pages, ‘Troubled Blood’ is not the longest book I’ve ever read.
I just hope it is one of the best.
“Private Detective Cormoran Strike is visiting his family in Cornwall when he is approached by a woman asking for help finding her mother, Margot Bamborough, who went missing in mysterious circumstances in 1974. As Strike and Robin investigate Margot’s disappearance, they come up against a fiendishly complex case with leads that include tarot cards, a psychopathic serial killer and witnesses who cannot all be trusted. And they learn that even cases decades old can prove to be deadly . . .”
Not so much a circus as a train. Or a circus on a train. Not a speeding train, not the Orient Express, not even a suburban train. This book is a fully loaded interstate train heading inexorably towards a broken bridge over a river. Along the way, passengers are jostled around, some jump out the doors, most get drunk in the dining carriage, several are angry and the rest are bemused.
Inspector John Carlyle is the most bemused of them all
I love a criminal book, you can comment hard!
Somewhere along a distant track I had stopped reading James Craig’s Inspector Carlyle series and this fourth book refreshed my memory. It contains such a high level of macho rubbish, female exploitation and smarmy politics that it is well past the read-by date.
It is astounding that the book doesn’t run off the rails with the ludicrous amount of murders
If Inspector Carlyle didn’t have off-sider Joe Szyszkowski and other sensible police personnel to back him up, he would still be floundering for answers at the end of the ill-fated journey. Maybe he’s on the wrong train? He gets cranky and often causes ‘accidents’ to himself and others due to his own dullness. Yes, he gets bashed up but never thinks his nemesis and ugly thug Trevor Miller knows where he lives – operative words ‘never thinks’. Miller is now the Prime Minister’s security adviser and totally out of control.
When it comes to using high-end brand names, from beer to clothes, watches to furniture and a plethora of cafés, this story takes the cake. Or biscuit if you are Carlyle who pays more attention to topping up his blood sugar levels and imbibing strong coffee than policing. The ending will have you spluttering in your coffee, it is beyond contrived.
Published in 2013, the political issues and phone tapping scandal is old. The dialogue is old, most characters give a neutral “Hm” when asked to respond. There are too many hands placed on arms, too many raised eyebrows; and the plentiful white males POV often switches to an omnipotent narrator.
For me, the best character is the City of London
Without alcohol the stratagem would flounder, trim the sexual abuse and the chapters would be less, without repeat paragraphs like Carlyle whining about the declining standards of UK newspapers this book would be blessedly shorter. And without packing in umpteen suspects from the Prime Minister to residents of greater London, this whole book would not have dragged on and could have been more effective.
“When the body of journalist Duncan Brown is found in the back of a rubbish truck, Inspector John Carlyle is thrown into the middle of a scandal that threatens to expose the corrupt links between the police, the political establishment and the hugely powerful Zenger media group.
Hunting down Brown’s killer, Carlyle finds himself going head-to-head with his nemesis, Trevor Miller. A former police officer turned security adviser to the Prime Minister, Miller has dirty money in his pockets and other people’s blood on his hands. Untouchable until now, he is prepared to kill again to protect his position – having failed once already to dispose of Carlyle he is not prepared to slip up again.”
A few years ago I was going through a rough patch in my professional and personal life. I wanted to close the door and read, read, read myself back to normality.
Search and ye shall read
The trouble was I hadn’t seriously knuckled down and read a well-written book for a long time. I felt distanced from northern hemisphere writers (what’s snow?) and never really got the whole Scandi-noir buzz. Several genres, including the ambiguous literary fiction, didn’t hold my interest. I felt I needed comedy, something I could relate to and laugh at. Also I wanted characters and places I understood, and possibly had visited.
Readers of my blog will know I like quirky writing so, rather than reach for self-help books, I began to search for way-out humour on the library shelves. Unfortunately back then humorous Australian writers were thin on the ground so I hung around the bookshops until the next Thursday Next dilemma or Ankh-Morpork debacle was published. Yes, Messrs Fforde and Pratchett saved my sanity with their insane books.
From comedy to crime
After trial and error, and iffy recommendations from friends, I discovered Australian crime writers. The good old Aussie turn-of-phrase drags me in every time. I know the cities, the vast distances between those cities, the weather, the beaches, the Great Dividing Range, the smell of gum trees and especially the food. Our food is a mish-mash of many cultures but in there somewhere is real Aussie tucker and nobody does a Chiko Roll or TimTam like we do. And our criminals are a bit special too.
I read in no particular order (and by no means all our contemporary crime writers) Garry Disher, Kerry Greenwood, Peter Temple, Leigh Redhead, Geoffrey McGeachin, Jane Harper, Robert G. Barrett, Honey Brown, Matthew Condon, Emma Viskic, Adrian McKinty (adopted Irishman) Candice Fox, Shane Maloney, Barry Maitland, Michael Robotham and my absolute all-time favourite, the iconic Peter Corris.
And Peter Corris came with Sydney private investigator Cliff Hardy
Peter Robert Corris (8 May 1942 – 30 August 2018) was an Australian academic, historian, journalist, biographer and novelist of historical and crime fiction. As a crime fiction writer, he was described as “the Godfather of contemporary Australian crime-writing”. After writing 42 books in his PI Cliff Hardy series, from 1980 to 2017, Corris announced in January 2017 that he would no longer be writing novels owing to “creeping blindness” because of type-1 diabetes and passed away the next year.
Naturally I was saddened to learn of his death but it hit me in another way. I never wrote and told him how his Cliff Hardy books lead me into the badlands and showed me that my life was all right. Well, in comparison to the criminal underworld Hardy inhabited. Despite the sleaze, the drugs, the murder, Hardy had his own set of morals, he was a good judge of character and played fair. However, he knew how to defend himself and fought hard when necessary. Forget that it’s fiction. Compared to his daily grind, I had nothing to worry about.
As Bowie said Ch-ch-ch-Changes
These Corris crime novels also documented a changing way of life through Hardy, especially the Sydney cityscape and his beloved Newtown. For nearly 40 years, semi-permanent characters came and went, and mobile phones and laptops took hold. High tech digital devices and spyware increased; electronic locks, security cameras and internet surveillance replaced skeleton keys and good old shoulder-to-the-door. I feel the loss of a metal filing cabinet, its papers viewed by torchlight in the middle of the night.
But through it all, Corris always managed to side-step technology, keeping Hardy real, doing the leg work, nailing the bad guy. His astute observations of human nature, and how he wrote plausible characters, made me feel I’d just met a crooked barrister or a smarmy crime baron.
The book on the right is one of my favourites. Recognise the bridge? These days I do read more widely but I’m missing my yearly dose of hard-boiled Hardy—to use Corris’ own description.
Below I have listed all the Cliff Hardy books even though it doesn’t have the visual appeal of the bookcovers. If you wish to check out more about each story, please visit Allen & Unwin Publishers website:
There could be reprints, anniversary issue, possible screenplay, theatre adaptation, prequel, or Grandson of Hardy for younger readers. I won’t give away the ending of the last book because I expect you to BINGE READ the complete oeuvre, then see for yourself whether or not you like Cliff Hardy’s final installment.
My sincere condolences to Jean Bedford, wife of Peter Corris, and his family.
PI Cliff Hardy book series
The Dying Trade (1980)
White Meat (1981)
The Marvelous Boy (1982)
The Empty Beach (1983)
Heroin Annie and Other Cliff Hardy Stories (1984)
The Big Drop and Other Cliff Hardy Stories (1985)
Make Me Rich (1985)
The Greenwich Apartments (1986)
Deal Me Out (1986)
The January Zone (1987)
The Man in the Shadows: Cliff Hardy Omnibus (1988)
Wet Graves (1991)
Beware of the Dog (1992)
Burn and Other Stories (1993)
Matrimonial Causes (1993)
The Reward (1997)
The Washington Club (1997)
Forget Me If You Can (1997)
The Black Prince (1998)
The Other Side of Sorrow (1999)
Salt and Blood (2002)
Master’s Mates (2003)
Taking Care of Business (2004)
The Coast Road (2004)
Saving Billie (2005)
The Undertow (2007)
Appeal Denied (2008)
The Big Score: Cliff Hardy Cases (2008)
Open File (2009)
Deep Water (2009)
Torn Apart (2010)
Follow the Money (2011)
The Dunbar Case (2013)
Silent Kill (2014)
Gun Control (2015)
That Empty Feeling (2016)
Win, Lose or Draw (2017)
Just received a brand new copy of ‘Lethal White’ the fourth volume in Robert Galbraith’s Cormoran Strike detective series. We all know that J K Rowling actually writes it but what I didn’t know was that this hardback edition is large and heavy!
The cover has a nice grungy look and, no, I did not skid it across the tarmac.
It was difficult to photograph because the bronze lettering flared but I wanted to illustrate the interesting trend of books getting bigger again.
I can’t help wondering how it will compare to previous adventures. The book blurb reads “The most epic Robert Galbraith novel yet, ‘Lethal White’ is both a gripping mystery and a page-turning next instalment in the ongoing story of Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott.”
I will post a review when I’ve ploughed my way through 647 pages.
American author Sue Grafton passed away in Santa Barbara on 28 December 2017 after a two-year battle with cancer. On hearing the sad news, millions of readers, writers and fans must have screamed “Noooo” and fallen to the ground, arms raised to the sky, wailing “Why, Sue Grafton, why?” Well, at least I did, and that’s no lie.
Famous for her 25-book Alphabet crime series, Sue Grafton’s last Kinsey Millhone book Z will remain unwritten. To quote her family “The alphabet stops at Y” and this has been echoed around the world.
Sue Grafton brought me back into crime reading and showed me the joys of a good detective novel. I was floundering in a bad ten years of my life where I’d lost my father and was struggling with the care of my ailing mother while battling my own ill-health when, quite out of the blue, I was given a second-hand paperback of Grafton’s book “K is for Killer”.
PI Kinsey Millhone walked into my life. Grafton’s detective series listed below – “H is for Homicide”, “N is for Noose”, “V is for Vengeance” and so on – transported me into a place I understood, 1980s an era I knew, yet detailed the life of a woman in a job which was so foreign, so far removed from my own experiences that I was immediately entranced. Or as my father would have said “Caught, hook, line and sinker.”
This fortuitous state of affairs meant I had many books to read before I was up-to-date with the current publications. Here I would like to thank my cousin Laurie who willingly sent me several paperbacks to feed my addiction. So I read one and moved straight onto the next, graduating from that first battered paperback to hardcovers and finally e-book editions.
The major characters are unchanging; Kinsey is a private detective in California who joined the police force then left to acquire her detective licence; landlord Henry Pitts is now forever in his kitchen; gregarious Rosie; love interest Cheney Phillips and Robert Dietz. It was fascinating watching Kinsey evolve, if that’s the right word, because in all she only advanced a couple of years and is destined to remain immortalised in her thirties.
It seems Sue Grafton did not even draft a copy of her final book. The old adage “Leave them wanting more” is true but not the case. Her family is adamant that although Grafton had a working title (prophetically) “Zero”, there will be no final book, no ghost writer, no movie and no happy ending – just a blank space on the bookshelf.
My condolences to her family. The final chapter has ended for Sue Grafton and Kinsey Millhone RIP.
Sue Grafton Alphabet Crime Series Featuring Kinsey Millhone
It’s 1987 and things are still nasty in riot-torn Northern Ireland. The Troubles in Ulster won’t go away. A dreaded mercury tilt bomb causes a fatality in the Royal Ulster Constabulary ranks when least expected. In fact, many things happen when least expected. The old ‘dead body in the locked room’ scenario rears its ugly head again. The unassailable Carrickfergus Castle location is picturesque but the freaky circumstances are not. Pretty reporter Lily Bigelow’s body is found sprawled in the snowy courtyard at the base of the castle keep. The castle is locked. Nobody went in and nobody came out, so what’s the deal? The facts don’t add up and it’s a case of did she fall or was she pushed?
Without much to go on, DI Sean Duffy of Carrickfergus RUC uses dogged police work, video tape footage, and many repeat suspect interviews, until small pieces slowly emerge. There is an outline to this puzzle but can it be filled in? Convincing evidence is hard to come by. Much in all as I love Sean, I do think he took two matters at face value even though I was shouting at him to double check. And he does appear to be maturing, perhaps a little bit more circumspect, managing to curb his anger when insulted by hostile Larne CID Chief Inspector Kennedy at a horrific crime scene.
We are left to wonder what part Sean’s old friend and ex-cop Tony McIlroy has to play in his role as protector of the visiting Finnish delegation Mr Laakso Mr Ek & Company. They are on a tight schedule, which involves finding a suitable factory location to manufacture Lennätin mobile phones, so these dignitaries are unhappy when Mr Laakso’s wallet is stolen. Sean is unhappy too. More so later when he has to interview them on the ice-road island of Hailuoto near Oulu in Finland.
The series regulars appear, solid unattractive Sergeant McCrabban and intelligent handsome DC Lawson who steals the limelight with a couple of excellent ideas. Some of my favourite cameos are from vague Chief Inspector McArthur and major irritant Sergeant Dalziel (gotta wonder about that name) and Sean’s lady love Beth plus the ever-delightful Mrs Campbell from nextdoor, married with kids but oh-so-smouldering. The only thing which grated on me was the dead giveaway of the chapter titles. I like them a bit more esoteric.
It seemed to be the year for paedophilia in crime fiction; the RUC Sex Crimes Unit at Newtownabbey gets involved and Jimmy Savile puts in an appearance. On a different note, Belfast has a visit from world heavyweight boxer The Champ, Muhammed Ali. I do enjoy Adrian McKinty’s diversions, these little re-writings of history. I wouldn’t class Rain Dogs as a scary thriller but in a gripping scene, Sean knew he ‘was afraid and fear releases power. Fear is the precursor of action’. McKinty also writes the dread and tedium of everyday life in succinct wording (without me needing grim online images) and Sean’s days are peppered with music and references. Which incidentally are where the titles of the books are derived.
Now living in Australia, Irish-born author Adrian McKinty has again worked his magic with Sean, maybe with a little help from St Michael (or St Francis de Sales) and no doubt book six in the Sean Duffy series Police At The Station And They Don’t Look Friendly is equally as good. At least I hope so because I don’t think readers are ready to kiss this Carrickfergus detective goodbye just yet. I can recommend Rain Dogs if you want to sink your canines into a distinctively styled crime novel.
Books in the Sean Duffy series:
The Cold, Cold Ground 2012
I Hear the Sirens in the Street 2013 – my first favourite
In the Morning I’ll be Gone 2014
Gun Street Girl 2015 – my second favourite
Rain Dogs 2016
Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly 2017
“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 NSW. 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 42-book 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.
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. Corris didn’t pass on his diabetes, however, the easy-going narrative speaks volumes, both men having a genuine affection for their family, the city of Sydney, and its diverse citizenry.
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.
Fast forward to future ‘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 late ex-wife Cyn, there’s even grandchildren. 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.
POSTSCRIPT: Peter Corris, journalist, historian and author of the best-selling Cliff Hardy detective series, died on 30 August 2018, aged 76. Over 37 years, from 1980 to 2017, Corris wrote 42 Cliff Hardy novels making it the longest running series in Australia. The final installment is titled ‘Win, Lose or Draw’.