Thursday, October 28, 2010

Wyatt by Garry Disher--reviewed by Andrew Nette

WYATT Garry Disher Text Publishing $32.95 (AUS)

As the blurb on the back of the book says: Wyatt’s been away, now he’s back. All I’ve got to say is, it’s about bloody time.

To those of you not with the program, Wyatt is a criminal, a professional hold-up man. He’s the creation of journeyman Australian writer, Garry Disher, who wrote six Wyatt novels in the nineties in which Wyatt cut a swathe through Australia’s criminal underworld, usually as a result of a job gone wrong.

In Wyatt the score is a jewel heist, presented by an old col¬league who fancies a shot at the big league. There are multiple double crosses courtesy of the cast of characters, including a bent cop, a wannabe gangster, a stone cold French assassin and an unhinged strip¬per. There is something about the heist-gone-wrong genre of crime fiction (and movies) that seldom disappoints and Wyatt is no exception. It’s clear with¬in the first few chapters things will go wrong. You know people are going to get hurt, some fa¬tally, and most, but not all, deserve what’s coming to them. The good part is finding out just how incredibly complicated and bad it’s going to get and how the characters react to each twist and turn of the plot.

The aspect of Wyatt that push¬es it beyond a simple, albeit, well-told heist caper, is the depiction of an old style criminal trying to adapt to a rap¬idly changing world. In sparse, gritty prose, Disher brilliant¬ly delivers insights into this side of Wyatt’s existence. ‘He was an old style hold-up man: cash, jewelry, paintings. Wyatt thought about that as he cleaned his pistol, or stood at a window and watched the twilight leak away. The trouble was, technology had outstripped him. He no longer had the skills to by-pass high-tech security systems or intercept electronic transfers and was preternaturally wary of going into partnership with anyone who did. So, here he was, obliged to carry out small-scale hold-ups and burglaries.’

Wyatt’s old associates are either dead, in jail or getting careless. His carefully planned network of stashes has been used or swallowed whole by ur¬ban redevelopment. Even public phones, Wyatt’s preferred form communication with his criminal associates because they are more secure than mobile phones, are getting scarce.

It’s not just Wyatt’s criminal milieu that’s shrinking, his space, even his ability to maintain anonymity feels like it is being eroded. While earlier Wyatt novels were set in mining camps, the countryside or the Pacific islands, this latest outing largely takes place apartments, offices and back streets in metropolitan Melbourne. This gives the book a taut, claustrophobic feel.

The parallels between Wyatt and character of master thief Park¬er, created by the late Richard Stark, aka, Donald West¬lake, are obvious. Both men are more or less amoral, emotion¬ally blank career criminals who while they prefer to restrict the violence to a punch or a pistol whipping, won’t hesitate to kill if double crossed. While there are many examples of this kind of fiction in the US, Wyatt is a stand out on the Australian crime fiction scene. Wyatt’s back. Hopefully he’ll stick around this time.

Andrew Nette lived in Southeast Asia for six years in the nineties and was based in Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand, as well as traveling around the wider region.
Nette has reviewed film and books for Crime Factory, Friday’s Forgotten Books and Back Alley Noir, the official on-line forum of the US-based Film Noir Foundation. He has also completed a crime novel titled Cambodia Darkness and Light. You can read more of his reviews at Pulp Curry

And make sure to check out Nette's interview with Garry Disher in issue #5 of Crimefactory

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