Brisk, tightly plotted and much the better of the two new Cliff Hardy imports.
Like The Coast Road (see below), this one starts with Cliff —tough, smart, properly noirish—not sure he should take on the troubles of a good-looking dame. Few experienced readers will share his uncertainty. A hard-boiled dick turning down a downhearted frail? Actually, Lorraine Master is at first less downhearted than righteously angered. Her husband has just been sent up to maximum security Avonlea Prison on a 12-year stretch, and she swears it’s a frame. The heroin was planted so it could be found in the false bottom of the suitcase Stewie carried into Sydney from New Caledonia. Her body-building con man is no saint, she acknowledges to Cliff, but he’d never have anything to do with drugs. Cliff’s intrigued not so much by Stewie’s plight as by sweet, lovely, well-heeled Lorraine, who clearly outclasses her jailbird mate: “She seemed the kind of person who expected things to turn out well for her, but minute cracks were showing.” So Cliff is off to lush New Caledonia on an ample expense account, with $100,000 extra to spend for information-gathering and bribery and traces of Lorraine’s perfume to serve as both bemusement and incentive.
Shamus Hardy, a kind of Aussie Lew Archer, shines brightly enough to make his longevity understandable.