In the 38th instalment of novels featuring Sydney-based private detective Cliff Hardy our hero is approached by a historian with a rather unusual request. The man believes he has new information about the wreck of a ship called the Dunbar which sank near the entrance to Sydney Harbour in 1857. History records there being a lone survivor of the tragedy but the professor believes there was a second survivor and that one of this person’s descendents, a man called Johnnie Twizell, may possess relevant documentation to prove it, including a family bible. He needs to involve Hardy in the pursuit of these documents because Twizell is currently serving time in prison for a serious assault and Hardy is more familiar with that setting than the professor himself. Of course things do not run smoothly and Hardy is soon embroiled in the seedier side of life once again.
In a recent radio interview Peter Corris explained that his protagonist has aged at roughly one-third the normal rate which is why he’s managed be only 50-something despite being into his fourth decade of crime fighting while his creator has reached a sprightly 70. So while Cliff has to swallow a collection of pills each day and is surprisingly touched by his role as a grandparent, he isn’t showing too many ill-effects of the ageing process; still keeping fit, working well and even managing a healthy sex-life. He is a no-nonsense kind of character who has a strong sense of morality, though this clashes at times with what might be considered strictly legal. My favourite trait of his is his rather acerbic line of observations about the world around him.
Personally I found the plot a little disappointing not because of any intrinsic faults but rather because it didn’t really continue its focus on the search for documents that would allow the re-writing of history. Instead it veered off into my least favourite crime fiction territory – the seemingly endless shenanigans that abound amongst criminal families and their extended ‘organisations’ I know it’s probably a more realistic arena and a hugely popular one but it does, I’m afraid, bore me absolutely rigid as I simply cannot summon up the necessary emotional engagement when life-long criminals start threatening each other.
That aside, THE DUNBAR CASE is the kind of pleasantly diverting read that a sweltering summer afternoon calls for. It doesn’t attempt to explore any aspect of the human condition but nor does it talk down to its readers and, an increasingly rare thing these days, it isn’t burdened with the irrelevant, boring filler so many of its 500+ page competition suffer from.
Publisher: Allen & Unwin 
Length: 247 pages
This work by http://fairdinkumcrime.com is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.