Saturday, December 01, 2012

Australian Crime Fiction: Garry Disher, Again

Dave and I have both written about Australian author Garry Disher's books. There are two crime series to follow, among Disher's more than 40 books; both series have been available in Australia for quite a while. Here they are:

The Wyatt Series
Kickback 1991
Paydirt 1992
Deathdeal 1993
Crosskill 1994
Port Vila Blues 1996
The Fallout 1997
Wyatt 2010

The Detective Inspector Hal Challis Series
The Dragon Man 1999
Kitty Hawk Down 2003
Snapshot 2005
Chain of Evidence 2007
Blood Moon 2009
Whispering Death 2011

In some ways it's a bit strange that the books have taken so long to reach the US market, but there are two factors to note: the gaps of years in the series (especially the 13-year gap in the Wyatt books), and the relative youth of international crime fiction imprint Soho Crime. It's hard for a publisher to make good progress when releasing more than one book per year by a given author (although see the recent blog post on Timothy Hallinan's "Junior Bender" series -- NOT a young adult series in spite of the word "Junior"). When the Wyatt series took flame again in 2010, Soho Crime began bringing the rest of Disher's books here.

Most recently, in August 2012, Soho Crime brought us PORT VILA BLUES. It's a fascinating look into Wyatt's life, a life that's remained mostly mysterious through the series. And we don't get details of his childhood or any other normal "sheet" on a criminal. What we see, though, through the quiet consistent narrative from Wyatt's point of view, is how the world can make sense to a psychopath. Wyatt knows his emotions are not "normal" but they are normal for him and he has no choice -- he operates on a basis of well-planned criminal activities, spread apart by stretches of a mostly uninteresting and anonymous life. Without family, without close friends, he's almost safe from long-term identification, other than the scary rumors about him that circulate in the underworld.

At the opening of PORT VILA BLUES, Wyatt is neatly conducting a technologically savvy, methodically planned burglary, based on a tip from a  dying colleague. In an almost compassionate move, Wyatt's linked himself to Jardine, who still has the capacity to connect Wyatt with a good fence. Or so the two men think.
Wyatt watched Jardine carefully. Jardine's face had grown more elastic in the past few minutes, as if his mind worked well if he had something to stimulate it. Wyatt even recognized an old expression on Jardine's face, a mixture of alertness and absorption as he calculated the odds of a problem.

But the burglary wasn't as simple as it should have been, and the fence turns out to be a "sheila," Liz Redding, who's also not what she appears. Eventually, despite the opposition that will rise between Redding and Wyatt, there's also realization of a similarity: Redding's drive may oppose Wyatt's, but it comes from an interior that's nearly as emotionally stripped. When someone on the side of law enforcement verges on being a psychopath, do we name that tendency, or do we label it an asset instead?

I'll be reading this again. Disher's steady-fingered probing of Wyatt's psyche and of his reluctant connections to others creates a back-music to the books that stays fresh even during a second or third reading, and continues to raise questions about the criminals among us today.

There's a "new" book from Disher releasing in the US on December 18, in the other crime series, the one featuring Hal Challis and Ellen Destry. It's called Whispering Death and I'm about to order a couple of copies for Kingdom Books. I started out more deeply drawn to the Challis and Destry series -- it probes a warmer, more "human" part of the psyche -- but by now, after comparing Wyatt favorably with Donald Westlake's darker books and also Lee Child's Jack Reacher, I'd say I want both Disher crime series on my shelf. And my desert island.

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