The January Zone, Peter Corris

Reading Matters’ Southern Cross Crime Month, March 2021

Peter Corris (1942-2018) must be our best known crime fiction writer, especially his Cliff Hardy novels of which this is one, the tenth as you can see, of 44. Looking through the list I can see that I’ve listened to a few, but this one happened to be on my shelves so I thought I would add it to Kimbofo’s month. In passing, his Wikipedia entry tells me Corris was married to AWW Gen 4 writer Jean Bedford, and that he had a PhD in History with a thesis on the South Seas Islander slave trade (into Queensland).

The Cliff Hardy novels are set in Sydney, Corris’s adopted home city (he was born and educated in Melbourne). Hardy’s home is an old terrace house in the inner-west, off Glebe Point Rd I think, which I used to know a little bit as B2 had a house there, 2 storeys, 11 ft wide and with a sandstone cliff at the end of the backyard. Although the novels are generally read independently, over the course of reading them you get some familiarity with his home life.

In The January Zone (1987) Hardy is late fortyish, so the same age as his author, divorced, alone, Helen his lover back living up the coast with her husband and daughter. He has a military background of course, in his case service with the Australian Army in Malaya; and is scruffy and anti-authoritarian and all those other cliches of modern detective fiction.

I am used to Hardy sloping around the streets of Sydney in his battered old Ford Falcon doing sleuthing stuff, but this novel jumps the shark a little – and it surprised me to find it was relatively early in the series – with Hardy acting as bodyguard (“security consultant”) to Labor politician, pacifist and Assistant Defence Minister Peter January during a trip to Washington to appear before a Senate Committee into the Russian threat in the Pacific or somesuch.

Hardy doesn’t want to be a security consultant but is persuaded when he’s present when a bomb goes off in the Minister’s office and a young intern is killed (and is barely mentioned again). And yes it pisses me off that a Federal Minister’s office is in Sydney. A constant stream of Sydney-based Prime Ministers over the past 30 years has incrementally moved the seat of government, not to mention the PM’s residence (I’d bomb Kirribilli if I could), away from Canberra in defiance of the Constitution.

January, so he fits in with every other male politician, pretends to be a lecher to divert attention from the fact that he’s actually going about with the wife of a senior Liberal. Hardy has the hots for Trudi, January’s secretary, though when his big opportunity comes he thinks of Helen and keeps his pants on (sort of).

She collapsed and I got properly onto the bed and held her. After a while she reached down and pulled the sheet up over us. “How do you feel now?” she said.
“I want you.” I was still hot and hard.
“Better we don’t,” she murmured. “This way you’ll remember … something different …”
“I’ll think of the Queen.”
She smiled and curled herself up.

A sniper takes a shot at Trudi before they leave Sydney; someone attempts to run the Minister’s car off the road on the way in from Washington airport; an assassin electrifies the microphone, killing the warm-up speaker at a January rally; January is a media sensation (the first Australian media sensation in the US since the PM’s wife wore a dress with a slit all the way up the side back in 1971). So you can see what I mean about jumping the shark.

Politicians around the world are struck by the brilliance of the junior Minister’s plan for peace in our time. Back home there’s a kidnapping, men playing merry hell with shotguns, more deaths, all the stuff you see every day in your morning newspaper. Not. The January Zone is more Action novel than Detective, very Sydney. I probably should have read a Peter Temple instead.

.

Peter Corris, The January Zone, Unwin Paperbacks, Sydney, 1987. 205pp

48 thoughts on “The January Zone, Peter Corris

  1. Hmm, I think you are right. A lot of the time there is no woman in his life or they don’t stick around, but there is the occasional action. Cliff Hardy ages in line with Peter Corris so illness, family things, etc, occur and Hardy finds his long lost… I won’t spoil it.

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  2. Hmmm… not read Corris and this one sounds a bit over the top! Does it feel dated, though, because the plot sounds like it’s been lifted right out of today’s Parliament House shenanigans!

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    • I think politicians often have big egos, spouses not with them in Canberra, and offices full of young things eager to please, unlikely to complain, and anyway with no one to complain to. The difference between now and 35 years ago when this was written is that a lot of the senior Canberra journalists are women and so some of the stories that have always been known by ‘everybody’ are now a) in the papers; and b) staying in the papers long enough to embarrass Scotty from Marketing into doing something. Though it will probably be another decade or two before the something that is done actually makes the workplace safe(r) for young women.

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  3. I’ve never heard of Peter Corris but apparently 8 of his books have been published in French by Rivages Noir. He must be good if he made it on Rivages Noir’s publishing list.

    I’m not sure I’m convinced by this one but thanks for the “jumping the shark expression”. I had to look it up and I learnt something.

    After looking up the cat’s pyjamas this morning, my animal English expressions have increased by two. I guess it’s productive day. 🙂

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    • Always happy to expand your English vocab Emma, though preferably with Australianisms rather than Americanisms. Cliff Hardy, when he’s in his familiar Sydney streets, is an interesting, fallible character and worth spending a couple of hours with. One day you might tell us how he goes in translation.

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  4. I realise when I read posts like this one, where you say ‘best known’ (and I’ve never heard of him) and then mention 44 novels (wow!), that I know NOTHING AT ALL about crime fiction. Not sure that I’ve ever even read an Agatha Christie – I mention this because my SIL consumes them like chips! I fear I will be forced into the genre when I am very, very old and my eyesight has failed me – I will only have the cosy crimes left to listen to in my library’s relatively slim offerings (they have loads of audio crime, which I think reflects their market where I live).

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    • No, it reflects the market for Australians as a whole (or maybe just for librarians). Every library I go to, the audiobook stock consists of 33% crime, 33% Nora Roberts, 32% other stuff and 1% classics and 1% SF. And a lot of the crime is NOT cozy, so expect to have to deal with lots of blood and far too many young female victims.

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      • My library tends to have audio CDs of whatever is super popular: Stephen King, James Patterson, Danielle Steele. We were told about a year ago that we’re not really focusing on ordering audiobook CDs because the main places folks listen to them is in the car, and cars manufacturers are slowly getting rid of CD players. We still have tons of e-audiobooks to download, though. As I mentioned to Kate, I’ve been a big advocate of getting older patrons to try e-materials. At the very least, most have a smart phone that can get the Libby app and download audiobooks on it.

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      • And I don’t know Nora Roberts either… although the name sounds familiar! I certainly don’t want to read about bloody crimes. Suspect when my ‘reading’ days are numbered, I’ll have to shift my expenditure to Audible or equivalent (have resisted that so far, given that my membership at a range of libraries keeps me in the odd audiobook).

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      • Nora Roberts writes romance, an awful lot of it (and also crime, as JD Robb). I have an Audible account but your library will give you everything that Audible can, and for free.

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      • Sue, it’s interesting to see what technology others use. I like CDs, I don’t even mind the old ones, pre mp3. They have the big advantage of 3 minute tracks, whereas the mp3’s and e-audiobooks seem to have tracks of 15 minutes up to a whole chapter, which makes it impossibly tedious to backtrack. At the moment I can listen to books on my phone via bluetooth speakers (it’s a bugger if I take them off and the phone rings) but hopefully the new cable I have bought will enable me to listen to Audible books through the truck speakers.

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    • A lot of our elderly patrons are running out of options in the large print books, so I’ve really been pushing them to try out e-books. They can get way more titles and change the font size to something big enough for them. This has made me so happy! So, if you keep up with whatever technology happens with books when you are an old lady, Kate, you may not be stuck with crime novels 🙂

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      • That’s good advice, though I imagine both my eyes and my concentration will decline with time. I read a few books each year on my kindle but I’m not sure I wouldn’t prefer a tablet – certainly not my phone as my daughter does.
        Yesterday I was out shopping with Milly and I dropped in to an electronics store (I helped her sit down before her eyes glazed over) and bought an adaptor (usb to analog) and audio cable to connect my phone to my truck radio – C21st here I come!

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      • Yes, the Kindle is marvelous for changing font sizes (sound the alarm if I ever get to the stage where it’s three words per ‘page’!).

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      • I love a general tablet so I can get all the apps for the different reading devices. I have a Samsung Galaxy Tab A and downloaded the Kindle, Nook, Libby, Hoopla, and Google Books apps.

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      • Bill, I have a phone, a Kindle, an 8″ tablet, and a 10″ tablet. I refuse to read books on the phone. Ridiculous! I got the Kindle before the tablets. It was OK. Good for reading in bed at night with the light turned off, so I could read quite late without upsetting the wife. Initially thought the 8″ tablet was good because it was compact, but decided I prefer the 10″ because of the extra screen space. I don’t have it in a case or cover, to keep it as light as possible. And I have the Kindle reader app on it, so I can still access Kindle books. The beauty of the tablet is that I can quickly switch from reading to other important activities, such as reading this blog. I find the PocketBook Reader app is versatile (will even “read” books for you) and powerful (can search through your library for title or author).

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      • I also have a basic tablet with the Kindle app, and I added the Nook, Libby, Hoopla, and Google Book apps too, to catch all the random tablets I’ve had over the past and the apps the libraries use.

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      • Thanks Neil, I thought that might be the case. A few years ago I had a 7″ Samsung tablet which was not good enough for blogging so I passed it on and bought a Lenovo “3 way” so I can fold it back and use it as a tablet though I rarely do. It’s great for blogging while I’m away (I have a desktop at home) but heavier than I’d like. What I really want is a Microsoft Surface, but I baulk at the cost. I like what you say about reader apps though and I’ll head down that path ‘one day’.

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      • The Microsoft Surface is RIDICULOUSLY expensive! I couldn’t even believe it. I think my Samsung Galaxy Tab A is a 10 inch. I only use it for reading books, though, so no issues with typing.

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      • I also have a laptop and a desktop. They both languish, apart from producing the Christmas newsletter. Need to fire up the laptop to progress on my mythical blog. The tablet is not brilliant for input (my touch typing skills are wasted as I “type” this response with one finger), but is brilliant for output. I’ve never managed to read more than a page or two on my laptop or desktop. And definitely not in bed at night 😂

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      • I’ve resisted buying a Surface because Microsoft lie about the cost – they highlight the price of the tablet but for it to work properly you must pay hundreds of dollars for ‘extras’, the keyboard for instance! But it’s still a lovely machine and I’ll give in one day.

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      • Joining in. Can’t bear reading on the phone (though my brother does.) I got a Kindle first, but have surprised myself by preferring these days to read e-books on the Kindle app on the standard (9.5″) iPad. I thought I wouldn’t like the glare but it’s fine, and the night (white on black) screen works well for not disturbing Mr Gums.

        One of the big impetuses for our updating our car – which was 15 years old – was communications technology. We wanted to use e-audiobooks, e-music, rather than CDs. So much more choice available than having to decide which CDs to pack in the car. We have been absolutely thrilled with it.

        I sort of got my Mum onto e-Books because of the big font but she didn’t love it, and only used it in desperation. She could still manage decent trade paperbacks when we died at just under 91.

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      • Yeah, when patrons at the library ask me, I never recommend they get an e-reader designed to do just one store’s books. When I first started with e-readers, I had a Nook, but then I couldn’t get stuff on Amazon by self-published authors. I’m glad your mom at least tried. I’m not sure I’ve convinced anyone 90+ to use an e-reader, but definitely folks in their 70s.

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      • My mum was her 8Os when she started. And would you believe that my father who had never touched a computer in his life got at iPad at 90. He didn’t read books but he read news items, sports apps, family social media channels, and especially read and wrote emails, including used emojis with aplomb. It was truly impressive. He was initially driven to the iPad by the printed newspapers not doing Sports reporting justice (like the full cricket scores) but it became a real joy for communicating with family, including the grandchildren.

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      • Speaking as a reader in his 70s, I find the kindle ok to use. I don’t buy e-books (and rarely get books to review) but it’s ideal for downloading (free) old books off Project Gutenberg.

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  5. This is a timely post, Bill! I did get a chuckle reading it!

    I used to work in the Supreme Court long ago. You have no idea what the justices used to get up to with their young assistants (guys). It was sheer abuse. It’s not just about women, it’s about anyone who is powerless.

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    • All those public school boys that I was briefly in College with, and who all went on to be lawyers and judges and politicians, were always going to be bullies, after 13 years of boys-only privilege. And who is not surprised that Morrison was a leading member of the Big Swinging Dicks.

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      • Indeed Bill. I used to try to help distressed young guys who worked as the judge’s Associates and were being abused and molested – then the same judges would sit and pass judgment on sexual abuse and rape trials! It would be farcical if it weren’t so appalling.

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  6. I’ve not read one of his books but I did read a Peter Temple when it showed up on a prizelist (I think it was the Miles Franklin?) a few years ago and I was very impressed.

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    • Peter Temple won the MF with a crime novel, which was unusual. Truth, in 2010, and as it happens I picked it up yesterday in a charity shop thinking I might review it this month, but I have another one on the go, so probably not. Temple was more literary than Corris (though to MF standard? Do the MF judges have standards? I mean, who puts Evie Wyld, a middle of the road Englishwoman, ahead of Alexis Wright? (2014))

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      • Yes, that was the one! The characterization really stood out to me. I’ve always meant to read more of his stuff.

        Although I agree that Alexis Wright deserves a MF and plenty of other literary recognition, I also think there is some solid crafting beneath the surface of Evie Wyld’s books, particularly in how she knits different voices/narratives together. But as it often happens with juries, just one vehement naysayer against a book can result in its being removed from contention early in jury discussions, so there could well have been other jurors on that year’s panel who also would have been happy to see Wright’s book claim the prize, but they had to find a compromise in the end. It must be hard to be a juror.

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      • Evie Wyld got up my nose because she wrote about Western Australia without ever having been here. But then going by the things they ignore I suspect none of the MF judges have ever been outside inner suburban Sydney and Melbourne. Everyone always sticks up for the judges. I don’t know who any of them are, but the MF always go for the stodgy option and the Stella for the innovative one.

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