There is no denying Peter Corris’ status as the godfather of modern Australian crime. Corris took the American private investigator corner of the crime genre and made it uniquely Australian. Still going now after 33 years, gumshoe and Sydney icon Cliff Hardy is back in action for the forty-second time in Win, Lose or Draw.
Hardy is hired by Gerard Fonteyn, a wealthy businessman, to find his daughter Julianna. Julianna has been missing for over a year and there is little prospect that she will actually be found. Hardy does some digging and agrees with this assessment. But months later a photo of someone who could be Julianna comes to light on Norfolk Island and Hardy is off. Very soon the search becomes extremely complicated involving drugs, under-age prostitution, murder, corrupt police and dodgy investigators. All in all, a typical Hardy scenario.
Win, Lose or Draw delivers exactly what it promises – a hard boiled jaunt through the seedier parts of the Gold Coast and Sydney. Hardy, although starting to show is age (if he aged at the same rate as normal people he would be about 80 by now), is still as tough as ever. Even tied up and looking at the prospect of being dumped at sea he still manages a hard boiled quip or two. The plot, as always, appears straight forward at first but even Hardy admits about two thirds of the way through that it “made my other missing persons cases look simple”. Complicated, yes, and with plenty of conflicting agendas which often collide violently and tragically, but Corris never lets the reader lose track of what is going on.
Win, Lose or Draw is vintage Corris and vintage Hardy. While there are secrets there is no great mystery to be solved, just hard graft of procedural detection. The tension slowly ratchets but doesn’t quite pay off in the way the reader expects, there is a dead pan noir sense of humour and with locations sketched economically but perfectly to give a great sense of place. The author bio suggests that this might be the final Cliff Hardy book. If so then Corris has ensured that his Sydney Private Eye goes out on a high.