Cross standing there with no tops on, the furious rain. Everything gets washed away, then the dirt and the crime come back.”
The author of two crime novels as well as the bestselling nonfiction book Huckstepp: A Dangerous Life, Dale is the son of a Sydney policeman. His father was a member of the vice squad in an era when the squad practised vice as much as they policed it. In the years after World War II he worked alongside the notorious Frank “Bumper” Farrell, whose job, according to historian Larry Writer, was to “police the brothels, gambling clubs and SP bookie dens in the area, investigate homicides, break-ins and assaults, and rid the streets of brawlers, drunks and punks and the public toilets of sexual predators”.
Farrell, a former Newtown Jets rugby league player who rose to the rank of inspector, was a devotee of what Writer calls the “Darlo way”. In his rollicking biography Bumper: The Life and Times of Frank ‘Bumper’ Farrell, Writer reports that “Bumper once produced a gun as evidence against a defendant. The magistrate examined it, noted its serial number, and wryly remarked that unless he was mistaken, this was the same gun Bumper had produced in a case a month or two before.”
Dale’s version of the Bumper legend is more brutal and more convincing. According to Dale, Farrell was a “corrupt heavy cop, handson. He would bash crims half to death — not like (Roger) Rogerson, who wouldn’t go one on one. Bumper would go one on one.”
Farrell died in 1985 but Sydney does not forget its villains, in or out of uniform, and in 2008 he was named as captain of the Newtown Jets’ team of the century.
Violent and morally compromised, Farrell is the kind of character you can picture lurking around the ragged edges of a noir story. Dale suggests in his introduction to Sydney Noir that the protagonists in noir fiction “are not private eyes and implausible police detectives from central casting, but ordinary people caught up in crime and violence, the kind of people you pass in the street or sit next to on overcrowded buses and trains”.
Noir fiction, he says, is rooted in the city; its concerns are “the problems in the city, people struggling, battlers, low economic survivors who get caught up in things beyond their control”. While it “builds on” the characteristics of “film noir” movies of the 1940s and 50s, Dale sees noir fiction as contemporary and democratic. “Sometimes I think it’s the only form of writing that’s not pretentious,” he says. “It’s straightforward, about real people. Too often in literary fiction the writing gets in the way. In noir stories the emphasis is on the city and the people involved.”
Among the writers who have contributed to Sydney Noir, there is one striking omission: Peter Corris, who died in August this year at the age of 76. Corris’s most famous creation, Cliff Hardy, knew the mean streets and rubbish-strewn alleys of Sydney, as well as its concrete towers and beaches. “Corris is an important writer,” says Dale. “He really led the way in writing about your own city, but his work is not classic noir because he always has a private investigator. The PI just is not a believable figure in noir.” Dale recalls visiting US writer James Ellroy telling an audience, “When was the last time a PI investigated a murder? The last time was never.”
Dale would love to have included Corris and asked him for a story, but the author’s failing eyesight — after 60 years as a diabetic — had forced him to stop writing.
Cliff Hardy’s old haunt of Glebe is missing from the locations in Sydney Noir, although the variety of settings bears out Dale’s assertion that, “If you scratch beneath the surface anywhere from Mosman to Parramatta, there’s crime, there’s always crime.”
There is no sign of Akashic’s Noir juggernaut slowing down. Next year brings the publication of Amsterdam Noir, Berlin Noir and Milwaukee Noir. Temple says he will “certainly publish Melbourne Noir” although the “groundwork is not yet laid”. It would be a crime to rush it. Noir. is one of the contributors to Sydney