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.

2 Comments Posted in Books
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  1. Great review. I read the Pokerface books, including this one, ages ago and I thought they were great. They are well written and genuinely gritty. I’d love to see the series. Keep up the work with your great blog.

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