Australian readers owe a great debt to Peter Corris, the man dubbed the godfather of Australian crime fiction, who has died at his home in Sydney at the age of 76.
At a time when the genre lacked a genuinely local presence, he employed the hard-boiled characteristics of Raymond Chandler and Ross Macdonald, but with Australian vernacular, characters and settings that proved irresistible.
He published his first novel, The Dying Trade, in 1980, introducing his best-known character, Cliff Hardy. To many readers' surprise Hardy, a big drinker, fighter and womaniser, managed to survive through 42 books and featured in Corris' final book, Win, Lose or Draw, which was published last year. Both the first and last books were dedicated to his novelist wife, Jean Bedford.
As Sue Turnbull wrote in her Fairfax Media review, "From the moment we first encountered Hardy sweating out a rare alcohol-free day on Bondi Beach (a side-effect of the now unthinkable Sunday prohibition), to the more sober grandad Hardy of today, Corris has offered an incidental but extraordinary commentary on the changing social and cultural landscape of Sydney with some interesting side-trips along the way."
Corris had been a Type 1 diabetic since he was 16 and last year told Fairfax Media that his deteriorating eyesight made work harder. But Corris didn't stop writing, filing a weekly column called The Godfather for the Newtown Review of Books, which was established by Bedford, and his former publisher and long-time friend, Linda Funnell.
"He delivered his copy every week on time," Funnell said today. "It was always prompt and always excellent."
She said she was working at Pan Macmillan when it published Corris' second and third Hardy novels and the pair had been good friends ever since. "I remember the excitement that we now had our very own hard-boiled hero." She and Bedford were about to raise a glass to Corris' memory, she said.
Gold dagger-winning crime writer Michael Robotham said Corris had been incredibly generous to him. "He would listen to my books on audio and always sent me an or message to say how much he enjoyed them. He said he wished he was starting his career now because it had been so tough for him and people say now is a golden age of Australian crime writing."
Stuart Coupe, whoedited the crime fiction magazine Mean Streets for many years in the late '80s and early '90s, said Corris began the renaissance of crime fiction in Australia.
"Crime fiction was considered a dead-in-the-water genre. No one was interested in it and it was lapsing globally. But with Cliff Hardy we not only had a great hard-boiled detective, but he was firmly rooted in Australia. He lived in Glebe, his office was in St Peter's Lane and he drove an Australian car. The tone was larrikin and the voice Australian."
Coupe said Corris was a magnificent chronicler of Australian cities. "He always said a private eye can cover and traverse all stratas of society."
Stephen Knight, author of Australian Crime Fiction: A 200-Year History, said it was important that Corris had been published here. "He was the first of the modern period. He brought an American form into Australia."
Without Corris, you wonder whether we would be having that golden age now.