See you at the Toxteth by Peter Corris revolves around the Toxteth Hotel in Glebe, which was one of the favourite haunts of Cliff Hardy, a flawed but prolific private detective. A year after his death in August 2018, his long-term wife (writer Jean Bedford) has assembled a wonderful sample of his work, including “the best of his short stories,” some of his entertaining weekly “Godfather” columns for the online Newtown Review of Books and the tongue-in-cheek but surprisingly insightful “ABC of Crime Fiction.”
In summarising his work, Jean Bedford writes:
He was a modest man… After his family, writing was the love of Peter’s life. He was never happier than when engaged on a book, and he was bored and depressed when there was nothing on the go. Fortunately, there usually was. He wrote for two short sessions a day, morning and afternoon, but was continuously preoccupied with the story…
The first Cliff Hardy book was published in 1980, to be followed by 41 more, gaining Peter Corris a global readership and later a Ned Kelly Lifetime Achievement Award. He came to be known as “the Godfather of Australian crime writing.”
See you at the Toxteth is a worthy memorial to Peter Corris, illustrating his concise and compelling writing skills. Each short story is taken from one of the seven published Cliff Hardy collections, where the writer takes a small pearl of an idea and develops it into a lively and entertaining narrative with a totally satisfying ending. If you are new to Cliff Hardy, a good start would be the short stories in Heroin Annie (1984).
The ABC of Crime Writing in this book is witty and concise, but provides insights into how Peter Corris constructed his stories and what he regards as good (and bad) crime writing. He concisely assesses crime writers from Conan Doyle to Ian Rankin. Never one to waste words, his comments are terse and clever. Here are a couple of examples:
J is for justice. Justice is assumed to be blind in crime novels, otherwise there would be no need for ethical lawyers, honest cops and private investigators.
S is for security. In the best crime fiction no important characters are secure.
The examples of Peter’s hundreds of columns for the Newtown Review of Books often include reflections on life and writing. Particularly poignant is On His Swansong, recounting his final appearance at the Sydney Writers Festival in May 2017, which my wife and I were privileged to attend.
Although Peter’s health was failing after a lifelong struggle with type 2 diabetes, he gave an entertaining talk about the final Cliff Hardy novel (Win, Lose or Draw – 2017). In the following Q&A session he responded to my question about whether he would miss Cliff Hardy as a life companion. He replied that I certainly miss chances to use his voice, to comment on things I heard and saw now that I can no longer write.
We will all miss you, Peter Corris and Cliff Hardy. Thank you, Jean Bedford, for bringing them together one last time in See you at the Toxteth.