The Godfather of Australian Crime Fiction
by Robert O’Hearn
It is with great sadness we farewell Peter Corris, who passed away peacefully in his sleep on Wednesday night, aged 76.
Described as “the Godfather of contemporary Australian crime-writing” Peter was one of Australia’s most prolific and talented authors, with 102 books to his name and a writing career of over 40 years. Best known for his Cliff Hardy crime series, Corris created other crime and adventure series such as his Ray “Creepy” Crawley novels, the Richard Browning series and the Luke Dunlop series.
However Cliff Hardy was by far his most popular character, spanning 43 books, the longest Australian publishing series of its kind. Cliff Hardy was the first real Australian hard-boiled private detective to appear in print, solving crimes in the city of Sydney, hanging in the bars of Glebe, driving Ford Falcons in Darlinghurst and speaking in sharp-tongued Aussie vernacular.
Inspired by Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, and Ross Macdonald, Cliff Hardy became the most famous Australian detective character in fiction, and the series remains one of the most popular with Australian libraries. A legion of fans love Cliff, and the books have influenced many crime writers. In 1985, the film The Empty Beach starred Bryan Brown as Cliff Hardy (with the character wearing Corris’ own leather jacket).
The Cliff Hardy series was pivotal in the development of Australian crime writing. Providing great entertainment, they are solid ripping reads, informed by the urban geography of Sydney and populated by a wide gamut of people, from the sleazy street crims to the corrupt elites.
Previously an academic and journalist, Corris was the literary editor of The National Times from 1979-1980. A few years ago Peter moved back to the Inner West of Sydney and became a popular Newtown identity, writing a very entertaining blog “The Godfather” for the online journal, The Newtown Review of Books.
Awarded the Ned Kelly Lifetime Achievement award in 1999, Corris also collected 5 nominations for the Ned Kelly Award for Crime Writing: Best Novel, being shortlisted twice.
Apart from his crime novels, Peter worked on many “as told to” biographies, the most famous being Fred Hollows: An Autobiography and Damned If I Do by Philip Nitschke. He had written one true crime book (Mad Dog) about killer William Cyril Moxley, some Pacific history and even a collection of stories about golf.
Peter Corris loved writing and would rather write than not, seeming never to struggle with deadlines. Sadly health complications led to increasing blindness and after writing his last book with his PC set to 20 point font, Corris felt it was too hard to keep writing. His last book, a Cliff Hardy novel, Win, Lose or Draw, was published last year.
Peter was a generous supporter of Australian writers, offering encouragement to the likes of Michael Robotham, Peter Temple, and Gabrielle Lord, when they were starting out. He never forgot the four years of struggling to get his first book published. Over many years of bookselling and living in the Newtown area, I was privileged to have quite a few conversations with Peter. He was always generous with his time, interested in others and supportive of community. Quick with a story, he was brilliant and humble company and I will miss seeing him on King St. He was loved by so many, and his death is a great loss. Our hearts go out to his family.
Praise for Peter Corris:
“A true original Corris’s portrayals of Australian crime stand out uniquely – forceful, hard-driven, compassionate.” – James Ellroy
“Our best tough guy is Peter Corris What distinguishes a good Cliff Hardy is a mix of interest in the Sydney dirt being dished, strong focus, palpable visuals and grudging empathy with the battered, warped but crazily ethical Hardy take on life and people.” – The Bulletin
“Corris is one of our great storytellers.” – The Sydney Morning Herald
Literary critic Peter Pierce said: “One of the keenest, most wry and generous of anatomists of contemporary Australia, acerbically witty yet unafraid of nostalgia, Corris graced Australian literature for half a century.’’