That Empty Feeling | Peter Corris

Kernel Deb reviews the 41st Cliff Hardy novel from Pater Corris, THAT EMPTY FEELING. Corris would have to be one of the most prolific authors in Australia and his books sound a lot like the PREY series from one of my favourite crime writers, John Sandford. The joy of the Hardy series is that most of them are all set in and around Sydney and it would appear Corris has never lost it and the hardy books are still as loved as they were when he started writing them. Sadly Corris is now legally blind so I do believe there is only one more in the series to come. THAT EMPTY FEELING is out now from the folks at Allen and Unwin Book Publishers, it will be out at most book stores or you can obtain it HERE.


THAT EMPTLY FEELING is Peter Corris’s 41st Cliff Hardy novel. The tale unfolds as the legendary private investigator, spooked by a Sydney Morning Herald obituary for his one-time friend Barry Bartlett, reminisces about past events. The setting is Sydney in the 1980’s when payphones still existed, light-fingered stevedores ran the wharves, Jeff Fenech was igniting public interest in boxing, and a “colourful media identity” was a euphemism for a crook that has managed to stay out of gaol. What follows is a briskly plotted paternity investigation that evolves into a tale of kidnapping, murder, oil piracy and corporate crime.

Corris is a prolific writer with an impressive number of fiction and non-fiction titles to his name, and in recent years a regular blog-spot with The Newtown Review of Books. Corris’s ground-breaking use of Australia locales and vernacular in the Cliff Hardy detective series is credited with paving the way for Clare McNab, Kerry Greenwood, Peter Temple and the slew of Australian writers that now write recognisably Australian material.


That Empty Feeling Book Cover image


Corris moved to Sydney in 1976. Four years later Sydney based private investigator, Cliff Hardy, hardened and cynical after stints in the army, as an amateur boxer and as an insurance investigator, debuted in his 1980 novel DYING TRADE. The 1983 feature length movie THE EMPTY BEACH (based on his third novel) unfortunately played to empty cinemas despite starring Bryan Brown as Cliff Hardy. Thus whilst many of his other novels are optioned for further TV/film adaptations, these have not eventuated. Luckily the books however have kept coming.

Corris’s style is akin to Dashiell Hammett, so Hardy is the sort of man that “makes wisecracks at his mother’s deathbed” and prefers to “call a spade a spade” – a pun Corris no doubt intends. Hardy isn’t flashy but like his Ford Falcon he’s got a bit of muscle so he can give and take a beating when needed. Unhampered by politics, money or beholden to status he uses a combination of street skills, intelligence and direct action to solve cases. Classical crime fiction is formulaic and Corris uses all the tried and true ingredients: healthy doses of biffo, frequent pithy one-liners, guns, colourful characters, sexy encounters and seedy locales to keep the reader engaged. THAT EMPTY FEELING has all these components in spades and so will not disappoint fans of the genre.

Hardy straddles the fuzzy boundary between legitimate and criminal worlds. There is give and take in his interactions as professional and personal boundaries are muddied. After all in Hardy’s world “nothing’s personal….. not entirely.” Leverage can always be brought to bear. Pragmatic and canny he believes that there is good and bad, discrete and indiscrete, in all walks of life; police, prostitutes, medicos and boxers. In Hardy’s world ambition, wealth and bureaucracy are the red flags. “Never trust a bureaucrat. The smart ones have a thousand ways to shift blame to someone else or claim any credit that’s going” and the truly wealthy, can and often do, buy themselves out of trouble.


Peter Corris Author image
Peter Corris Author image | Photo shared with thanks from The Australian. Photo credit to: Picture: James Croucher


Corris’s novels are ones where a reader can see, smell and hear the action. His unvarnished characters are elaborately detailed “the hard lines of his craggy face sagged as if he’d lost a lot of weight lately.”, the Sydney locales acutely observed “Newtown, shedding its sleazy image and transitioning to metro chic” and the microenvironments visceral “the pungent smell of booze, sweat massage oil and sperm.” Corris is an evocative writer. Better still he does not waste words so his plots zip along at a good pace.

In THAT EMPTY FEELING Corris seems interested in the concerns that arise as one ages: regret, loneliness, the desire for succession, the desire to leave a mark in the world, the loss of physical prowess, and the price paid for years of indulgence. Corris himself is a veteran of a myriad of medical interventions having had type 1 diabetes for decades along with asthma, a past quadruple bypass, laser for advanced retinopathy, intraocular lens implants and a few broken bones. He openly acknowledges he writes “what he knows” and by doing so there is a pleasing authenticity to his character’s health concerns, lifestyle choices, physical ailments, alcohol usage, and attitudes to medicos which perhaps mirror his own.

Corris is now legally blind which makes typing manuscripts difficult hence THE EMPTY FEELING may be his penultimate Hardy novel. As Barry Bartlett says in THAT EMPTY FEELING “when it’s time to go, it’s time to go.”  THAT EMPTY FEELING is a visceral, evocative and briskly plotted page turner sure to please fans of hardboiled detective fiction. Heres hoping that the final Cliff Hardy instalment is equally enjoyable so Corris can round out the series on a high.


3 and a Half Pops


Deborah is a lifelong lover of books, food, TV and film with a penchant for schlock horror, superheroes, science fiction, black comedy and Asian martial arts stars. She would prefer to skydive than couch surf and is a fan of zombie walks. She can be found plugged into podcasts on long walks with her dog.

** All images courtesy of various sources on Google or direct from the distributor/publisher – credit has been given to photographers where known – images will be removed on request.