One of the small pleasures of summer I always look forward to is cracking the spine, or hitting download, on a new Cliff Hardy story. Peter Corris has been cranking these out since I was a teenager. I still remember reading The Empty Beach for the first time, and going back to it again and again, drawn by the pastiche of Hardy’s gallows humour, the uniquely Australian voice (well, it was unique at the time) and Corris’s way with transplanting the best elements of the hard boiled school to the bright golden shores of the harbour city.
I still have this year’s release – That Empty Feeling – to read, but just finished Gun Control (iTunes) as my bedside book. Cliff ages gracefully, but he does age. He’s a grandad now, still on medication for his heart attack a few years ago, and all around him his contemporaries are retiring from the game. He gets into fewer brawls and tends to take back up with him when he’s expecting one.
Back up in Gun Control comes in the form of an unusually temperate bikie gang leader, looking to establish his rule after the death of his former pack leader, a shady lawyer and crooked cop. Sydney is as much a character and player as ever and feeling my own understanding of the city fading with every day I’m away, I was taken by how well Corris stayed in touch with the place after moving to the north coast a few years ago. Then I found out, he’d moved back. Sucks for him I guess, but yay for the rest of us.
As always the maguffin in Gun Control is a client; a businessman who pays Hardy to investigate the death of his son. The coroner ruled it a suicide, but nothing is ever simple. Hardy is soon mixing it up with bikers, cops good and bad, dodgy lawyers and a couple of unfortunate muggers who chose the wrong granddad to have a go at.
A world away from modern Sydney, Bernard Cornwell’s The Last Kingdom (iTunes) is set in England between 866 and 876, during the age of the Vikings. It had been sitting in my pile o’ shame for years and I’m not quite sure what made me pick it up. Maybe seeing the TV series was coming up on Netflix or Stan. I thought, wrongly, that it might have been Cornwell riffing on the King Arthur saga, but it seems to have been based on an actual historical figure.
The narrator is Uhtred Ragnarsson, born a Saxon but taken by Danish raiders who killed his father when he was ten. Uhtred is raised by the Danes as one of their own, setting up a long series with a vengeance motif at its heart.
I tried to like it. It’s a good story, well told, but for some reason I just didn’t find it compelling. That says more about me than Cornwell. I couldn’t help thinking what this book needs is a gunned up platoon of 21st century SAS hard men somehow pulled back in time to kick Viking arse.
That gives me an idea. Excuse me a second while I rejig my writing schedule.
Anyway, would I recommend it? I guess I would, if you’re a fan of historical fiction set in that period. Cornwall is a great story teller, and hugely popular. It’s not his fault I didn’t get into the Kingdom.
My other summer read was the latest in David Weber’s Safehold series; Hell's Foundations Quiver (iTunes). If you haven’t been following the series, I can’t help you. We’re deep in the narrative woods now and as happens with a lot of these long arcs, if you haven’t been there for the whole thing, it will make no sense to you. I have been there, and at times it didn’t make much sense to me because there are now so many characters and plots and sub plots that I found it hard to remember who was doing what.
Still, it felt a more polished effort than some of the earliest titles. Weber has a few quirks that really grated on me as I rushed through the early novels one after another. We’ve discussed them before; his characters are forever chuckling for no good reason; he loves putting two men in a room to chat about nothing but exposition. Hell’s Foundation isn’t free of these sins, but they happen much less frequently. And the premise off the series, a sentient AI in a combat chassis thrown in amongst religious bigots to set off a holy war is as much fun as ever; i.e., heaps.