The popular twenty-book series about homicide detective Scobie Malone was published from 1966 to 2004, with a hiatus in 1973 to 1987. It is probably the best-selling Australian crime series, and the most successful overseas due to Cleary’s reputation from other novels such as The Sundowners.<
All crime novels are intensely unrealistic, and Cleary’s are so in the same way as the TV series Midsomer Murders and the Commissario Brunetti novels of Donna Leon. Scobie has few of the characteristics of a real detective, either those that draw a person to the job or those – more importantly – developed by doing it. What Cleary does is place an ordinary person in the position of detective to experience the vicarious pleasure of encountering – but not being affected by – the dysfunctional lives of others. Real detective work – just how the police deal with people and find out stuff, and how they are affected by the work they do – is not on display here.
In addition, the detective has a blandly enviable existence, with a beautiful wife with whom he enjoys a fulfilling sex life, wonderful children, and a pleasant house in a good part of town. He is a remarkably stable character with no problems with health, money or his career.
While this heady mixture continues to work for some authors and TV series, the Scobie novels lost readers towards the end. Possibly the gap between their fantasy and the reality of Sydney policing became too apparent to readers thanks to the police royal commission of the mid-1990s.
Note: This entry is what Wikipedia would call a “stub”, the brevity due solely to lack of time. We would welcome more words, from author, publisher or admirers, which can be sent by way of the email address at the foot of our home page.