Vale Peter Corris

Richard Watts

Corris, described as the godfather of Australian crime fiction died peacefully in his sleep on Wednesday night.
Vale Peter Corris

Peter Corris: image via Allen & Unwin.

The prolific Australian crime writer Peter Corris, best known for his character Cliff Hardy, a private detective, has died aged 76.

Corris died peacefully in his sleep on Wednesday night, according to a statement from his publisher, Allen & Unwin, on Thursday.

‘Peter has rightfully been described as the godfather of Australian crime fiction, writing 42 books featuring his legendary private investigator Cliff Hardy over the course of a career that saw him recognised with the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Crime Writers Association of Australia, along with the 2009 Ned Kelly Award for Best Fiction,’ the statement continued.

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‘Aside from his Cliff Hardy series, Peter’s books range from historical novels to co-authoring Fred Hollows’ bestselling autobiography. He will be missed by all at Allen & Unwin, and by everyone who worked with him over his long and distinguished career.’

Corris brought a new vitality to Australian crime fiction, which had been a moribund genre – dominated by hastily written pulps by Australian writers set in the USA or the UK – prior to the publication of his first Cliff Hardy novel, 1980’s The Dying Trade.

His novels were distinctive for their fusion of American crime fiction tropes with an Australian setting and vernacular, and for their powerful evocation of people and place.

‘What I  like about the Hardy books is the way the character’s work not only pushes up against Sydney’s dregs but also its elites, the shonky developers, greedy financiers and corrupt politicians. Indeed, all the Hardy books are shot through with a keen awareness that the misdeeds of the rich and powerful are usually far greater than anything the underclass can dish up, as well as harder to detect and prosecute. They also ooze an egalitarian point of view that pre-dates the wave of economic deregulation introduced in the 1980s, which would fundamentally transform the country,’ said writer and pulp fiction aficionado Andrew Nette.

Writing at The Conversation, academic and author Stephen Knight said Corris ‘has matched Raymond Chandler in the modern world’s dominant crime form’.

Born in Stawell, in country Victoria in 1942, Corris was educated at Melbourne High School, and Melbourne and Monash universities. After an early career in academia he switched to writing in the 1970s, with journalism – including two years as literary editor of The National Times – supporting his creative writing.

Failing eyesight caused by diabetes resulted in Corris publishing his final book in 2017.

He is survived by his wife Jean Bedford, their three daughters and seven grandchildren.

About the author

Richard Watts is ArtsHub's Performing Arts Editor and Team Leader, Editorial; he also presents the weekly program SmartArts on community radio station Three Triple R.

The founder of the Emerging Writers' Festival, Richard currently serves as the Chair of La Mama Theatre's Committee of Management and on the Green Room Awards Independent Theatre panel.

He is a life member of the Melbourne Queer Film Festival, and in 2017 was awarded the status of Melbourne Fringe Festival Living Legend.

Follow Richard on Twitter: @richardthewatts