Pokerface

Author: Peter Corris
Publisher: Penguin Books
Published: 1985
Based on scripts for the ABC TV drama Pokerface by Peter Corris and Bill Garner

Recently I have looked at a few Cliff Hardy adventures; firstly the film, The Empty Beach, the book The Black Prince, and the radio drama, The Greenwich Apartments. All of these were based on books by Peter Corris. Aside from Cliff Hardy, Corris has written a couple of other series, the Browning series, of which I haven’t read any of the titles (although I have a copy of Browning Sahib in my ever growing TBR pile), and the Ray Crawley series.

From what I can ascertain, Peter Corris and Bill Garner wrote a television series for the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Commission) called Pokerface, which starred Bruno Lawrence as Raw ‘Creepy’ Crawley. I emailed the ABC to see if I could get hold of a copy of the series, but they informed me that they only had singular broadcasting rights, and the series was not available.

I assume, and could be very wrong, that it did not complete its intended run, or was not successful enough to go into a second series, and there were scripts and story outlines left over. These scripts and story outlines formed the basis of the Crawley series.

Pokerface appears to be the first in the series. The style of the book is quite different to the Cliff Hardy stories. It is harder, dirtier and sleazier – and it is set in Melbourne. With Corris’ stories, the cities they are set in are just as much a character as the people who populate it.

Ray Crawley is an agent for the Federal Security Agency (FSA), and as the story opens, Crawley and fellow agent Graeme Huck are on a stake out, watching a prison, as they have information that suggests that a felon is planning an escape.

As their tipoff suggested, the escape attempt takes place, but before they can react, a squad of armed police arrive, and shoot the escapee. Needless to say, Crawley and Huck’s operation is a bust. The head of the FSA, Tobias Campion is under pressure from Canberra money-men for results, and Crawley’s latest fiasco is an embarrassment to the Agency, and he is dismissed.

Being sacked, does little for Crawley’s domestic life. His marriage was already on the brink, and his dismissal, and consequent loitering around the house getting drunk, is the last straw for his wife, Mandy. Mandy leaves, and takes the children.

Crawley hits the pub, and picks up a young radical punk girl named Roxy. Despite their age differences, Crawley brings her home. Tagging along with Roxy, rather incongruously throughout the story, is Roxy’s friend Snow, who is a young stoner. He spends most of the story sitting on a couch, smoking spliffs and drinking booze.

Later, Crawley finds out that Roxy and Snow belong to a subversive group, that are anti-American, anti-Big Business, anti-Government and anti- … well just about everything else. They graffiti billboards, and in the past, have been involved bomb hoaxes, and other soft militant actions.

Crawley figures, using Roxy and Snow to get up to some mischief, orchestrated by himself, he might just be able to worm his way back into the FSA. Adding to this, Campion is still under pressure for some kind of score, which will secure his position, and secure extra funding for the FSA. When he finds out that Crawley is associating with a radical group, he sees it as an opportunity to achieve his ends.

So Crawley and Campion start working from different ends of the same problem. Both men want a big militant incident, and when Crawley, with a little help from his former partner, Huck, gets his hands on some handguns and plastic explosive, it looks like it is going to happen. But both Crawley and Campion want different outcomes.

There is a lot to like about Pokerface, as it is a bit more gritty and cynical than the Hardy stories – and admittedly I am biased, because I live in Melbourne – it is great to read fiction set in your own backyard, as it were. But ultimately, Pokerface is a disappointing story.

Firstly, the relationship between Crawley and Roxy, especially with their age differences, and Roxy’s political stance is barely believable. And furthermore, and I will not spoil the ending, their relationship at the end of the story is never really resolved. Did Roxy, and Snow for that matter, ever mean anything to Crawley? Or were they simply pawns to be used from the outset?

Next, too many of the plot machinations happen by happenstance. There is plotting and manipulation by both Crawley and Campion, but often their plans, and desired outcomes are never spelled out. It is all a secret.

And finally, in the end, everything that happens in the story, good or bad (and most of it is bad), is at the behest of Crawley and Campion who are playing there childish little games. As they play out their feud, the other characters are all innocent victims, in one way or another. Essentially the main protagonists are not likeable men in any way, shape or form. And I find it hard to ride along with (or read about) a character that I have very little empathy, or sympathy for. Crawley, ultimately is a nasty piece of work. He’s a self-centred drunk, who lucks out on this occasion.

But having said all that, I would read at least one more Crawley book. As this story ends, which once again I won’t reveal, there is a dramatic change in Crawley’s circumstances, and whether or not, this allows him to be a better person, or put his negative traits to use in a positive fashion is to be seen – or read in another Crawley story.

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Pokerface

The Greenwich Apartments

The Greenwich Apartments ABC Radio Drama is a little something I picked up in a second hand shop. The packaging was cracked and knocked about, but this almost seems appropriate for a Cliff Hardy story, based on the novel by Peter Corris.

Firstly, let me explain that this is not an audio book – and not to be confused with the various Corris titles that Bolinda Audio has released over the years – as read by Peter Hosking. This is an ABC (Aust. Broadcasting Commission) radio play, with actors playing the various characters. Unfortunately, the twin cassette pack does not have the cast listed. I must admit I’d be very curious to know who played Cliff Hardy.

The Greenwich Apartments was the 9th Cliff Hardy book, and it was released in 1986, however this adaptation – apparently done by Corris himself – was either broadcast, or released on cassette in 1992. I am not too sure of the details here, as information is hard to come by. The cassettes have 1992 on them, but of course, the radio drama could have been broadcast several years before.

In this investigation, Cliff Hardy is hired by a wealthy businessman named Leo Wise, to look into the death of his daughter, Carmel. She was shot ten days prior, outside the Greenwich Apartments in Sydney’s Kings Cross. Carmel was a film-maker, having directed an award winning feature called Bermagui. She also had an enormous collection of video-tapes (remember this story was written before the advent of DVDs and Blu-Ray disks). As far as the police are concerned, Carmel Wise was working on porn films, and probably got involved with some shady underworld characters – and that’s how she met her demise. But everybody who knew Carmel, knows that is not true.

The Greenwich Apartments are owned by Leo Wise, and when Carmel’s ever metastasizing video collection outgrew where she was living, she asked her father if she store some of her collection in one of the vacant apartments. He agrees, and allows her to use Apartment One. The thing is, Apartment One, while nobody lives there, is in fact already let – and Leo Wise receives the rental payments without fail, every month.

When Hardy investigates, he discovers two suitcases (under piles of video tapes) which belong to the tenants of the Apartment. He ascertains the identity of one of the tenants as Tania Hester Bourke, but he doesn’t know who the man is. It’s a start, and his enquiries branch out from there.

As is the nature of this style of detective story, Hardy over the course of his investigation has to deal with a shady nightclub owner, ignorant and abusive cops, and underworld thugs brandishing weapons. And of course, the story serves up more than its share of red herrings too. At the end, Hardy is battered and bruised (and almost loses an eye), but has seen the case through.

Obviously, to fit in the two hour running time, much of the story has been condensed from the novel, but it is still remarkably faithful, and keeps the integrity of the story intact. And it’s entertaining too. At the start I thought that the actor who played Hardy sounded a bit young, and his voice didn’t have a ‘lived in’ quality. But as the drama progressed, I really warmed to his portrayal of Hardy – as I said earlier, I’d really like to know who the actor was.

The Greenwich Apartments is a punchy little drama, and an interesting side project for Peter Corris, the ‘Godfather of Australian Crime Fiction’. Coupled with the film version of The Empty Beach, it shows that Cliff Hardy was (and still is) bigger than the printed page – and one of Australia’s most durable pop culture heroes.

The Greenwich Apartments

The Black Prince

Author: Peter Corris
Publisher: Bantam Books
Published: 1998
Book No: 22 – Cliff Hardy series

For those not familiar with the character of Cliff Hardy, private investigator, he is a creation of Peter Corris and first appeared in the novel The Dying Trade in 1980. Since then he has been releasing Cliff Hardy stories regularly – at least thirty of them (that’s how many I have, but I am sure there are more). The Black Prince was about the third Cliff Hardy novel that I read. The first two I read were The Dying Trade and White Meat – books one and two in the Cliff Hardy series, and published in 1980 and 1981 respectively. I can barely remember them now, but I recall that they were very good (especially The Dying Trade) and elaborately labyrinthine – in the best tradition of Raymond Chandler. But by the time of The Black Prince, Cliff Hardy (and I suspect Peter Corris) had mellowed. Not in a bad way, but a comfortable way.

The Black Prince has twists and turns, as all good P.I. thrillers should have, but it is not told in as fractured fashion as the earlier entries in the series. It is smoother, and more accessible, and as a character, Hardy seems more ‘lived in’. Put simply, the story is damn pleasurable to read. Well, at least that’s my opinion. However, if you were to suggest that maybe the series had lost some of its ferocious bite – and it was the rough edges that made the first few books so great – I would not argue with you.

As the story opens, Private Investigator, Cliff Hardy is feeling his age. He is slightly out of shape and can’t quite take the rough stuff like he used to. To combat this, he signs on as a member at a local gym in Leichardt, which is run by a West Indian, named Wes Scott. Scott has a son named Clinton (the titular ‘Black Prince’), who is a top flight athlete, and studying at University. On the odd occasion, Clinton even helps out around the Gym.

During one of Hardy’s workouts, he notices that Wes looks troubled, and enquires to the cause. Wes explains that he hasn’t seen his son in a couple of weeks and he hasn’t been able to contact him. Obviously, Clinton’s mother is anxious too. Hardy offers to help – for pay of course! So Hardy makes a few enquires, and it doesn’t take long to find out what has caused the disappearance. It seems that Clinton’s girlfriend, Angela Cousins (who is also a sporty athletic type) is in a coma at the local hospital. She had been taking illegal steroids to improve her sporting competitiveness, and she had a extremely bad reaction. When Hardy stumbles on this information, Angela is about to have her life support switched off.

In a rage, Clinton has vowed to find those behind the bad drugs and kill them. And initially that’s all Hardy can find out. Clinton, to all intents and purposes has varnished off the face of the earth, but there is no evidence to suggest that he is dead. Hardy reluctantly calls a halt to the case as all his leads have run dry.

Several months later, some new information surfaces, and Hardy is once again on the trail. This leads him to Bingara in Southern NSW, and then up to a remote aboriginal settlement in Queensland. Then finally back to Sydney, and into the shady world of illegal boxing.

When it comes to the boxing, Peter Corris knows what he is talking about. He may be well known for his Cliff Hardy and Browning stories, but he also wrote a non-fiction book about prize-fighting in Australia in the early 1980s (I think? It’s very hard to come by these days). Corris’ knowledge and enthusiasm for boxing comes through in his prose – and the sequence at the underground smoko is rich with atmosphere. American readers may be thinking ‘Smoko’ – what’s he on about? In America underground fights are called ‘Smokers’, but here in Australia, we call them ‘Smokos’.

The Black Prince is a great piece of Australian genre fiction and I recommend it highly.

For more on Cliff Hardy, and author Peter Corris, check out Shane Maloney’s article (and interview) The Man and His City.

I have not read any of Peter Corris’ Ray ‘Creepy’ Crawley series – which consists of, The Vietnam Volunteer, The Time Trap, The Azanian Action, The Japanese Job, The Cargo Club, The Kimberley Killing, The Baltic Business, and Pokerface, but I am lead to believe they veer off into espionage territory.

The Black Prince

The Empty Beach (1985)

Country: Australia
Director: Chris Thompson
Starring: Bryan Brown, Anna Maria Monticelli, Ray Barrett, Nick Tate, Belinda Gibbin, John Wood, Peter Collingwood
Music: Martin Armiger and Red Symons
Based on the novel by Peter Corris

Bryan Brown IS Cliff Hardy. It is perfect casting. It’s a shame that this film wasn’t a hit, because I would have loved to see Brown play Hardy again and again. He could be doing it to this day, pumping out a tele-movie each year – and I would be first seated, ready and eager to watch it. But alas, not to be.

For those not familiar with the character of Cliff Hardy, private investigator, he is a creation of Peter Corris and first appeared in the novel The Dying Trade in 1980. Since then he has been releasing Cliff Hardy stories regularly – at least thirty of them – the last I am aware of, is Appeal Denied which was released in 2007. I am sure Corris has released a couple more since then. I realise I could quickly validate this with a quick Google search, but after the Christmas break I am a bit short of cash, and if I don’t know that they exist, then I won’t go hunting for them.

The story, which is set in Sydney, starts with a wealthy businessman (for that read black marketeer and poker machine king), John Singer, who is about to go for a pleasure cruise on the harbour with his mistress. But they are greeted at the docks by some shady looking characters. That is the last that is heard from Singer. It is surmised that he fell overboard that day and drowned.

Two years later…
Cliff Hardy meets Mrs. Marion Singer (Belinda Gibbon), who wishes to employ him. She has received a note from an anonymous source, claiming that her husband is still alive – but not looking too well. She realises it might be a hoax, but wishes Hardy to look into the matter.

Hardy’s investigation leads him to a newspaper reporter, Bruce Henneberry (Nick Tate), who reported on Singer’s disappearance at the time. Henneberry thinks something fishy is going on, and it is related to his latest piece of investigative journalism. He also has all the dirt on the city’s corrupt politicians, businessmen and gangsters. He keeps this dirt all on a series of tapes that he has stashed away. But things turn messy when Hardy witnesses Henneberry’s murder, in the surf, at Bondi Beach. Then it becomes a race to track down Henneberry’s tapes, with Hardy, the police, and Sydney’s underworld all set on a collision course.

The Empty Beach is an old school detective movie, but set in Sydney in the 1980s, which means some of the music, fashion and haircuts have dated. But other than that it still holds up quite well. It is played lean, hard and fast with all the requisite plot convolution that a detective story like this should have.

At the time of writing, The Empty Beach remains sadly unavailable of DVD (or Blu-Ray), which I think is criminal, because the film, for movie-watchers who love the genre, is well worth watching.


Bryan Brown, despite being in over seventy productions has never been in anything that is an out and out spy movie. Nick Tate starred as villain Jenson Fury in No 1: Licensed to Love and Kill (AKA: The Man From S.E.X.), and also recently starred in The Killer Elite with Jason Statham and Clive Owen. Tate also played Matt Parsons in numerous episodes in the Australian TV series Spyforce; and appeared in The Champions (The Dark Island 1968). Ray Barrett provided the voice for John Tracy (and The Hood and other characters) in the Thunderbirds, and voiced Commander Sam Shore (and others) in Stingray. As a nice Bondian adjunct, Commander Shore’s daughter, Atlanta, was voiced by Lois Maxwell. Barrett also appeared in the 1966 BBC TV series, The Spies, (Lash Out 1966), The Saint (The Loving Brothers 1964), The Man in Room 17 (Lady Luck’s No Gentleman 1965) and The Avengers (Man in the Mirror 1963).

Special thanks to Andrew Nette from Pulp Curry.

The Empty Beach (1985)