A thrilling house of games: "Kickback" by Garry Disher
The obvious and numerous nods to Richard Stark's Parker novels in the end serve to highlight the differences of temperament between Disher and his protagonist, Wyatt, and Stark/Parker. Like the best Parker books, Kickback is a well-paced and compelling caper story. We see the selection of a target, the debate over method, the acquisition of guns. The crime's planners worry over a safe place to hide out afterward and about their need for seed money to pay for the robbery. The caper is planned, and both it and a preliminary crime step on dangerous toes, with violent complications.
But Disher is more interested in emotion and less in surgical detail than Stark. Wyatt, though impatient with stupidity in others, is more social and susceptible than Parker. For one thing, he lets himself become involved with a woman during the caper's planning, which Parker avowedly would never do. And when he does become involved, the feelings are more than just sexual. There are tenderness and vulnerability in Wyatt's feelings for this novel's femme fatale. There are also touches of humor here, both on the author's part and the protagonist's, where there would be none in a Parker book. A typical Parker novel would never contain an exchange like this:
Hobba jabbed with the gun. `I said shut up.'
`Ivan's got contacts. Anything happens to me, you've had it.'
`Sugar,' Hobba said wearily, `your brother thinks you're a fuckwit.'
The family complications implied in that exchange are another `human' facet bolstering the case that Wyatt is no mere Parker clone. And the killing of an ultimately hapless villain in Kickback has pathos utterly foreign to Parker's world.
I hope I have not offended Australian readers by discussing Wyatt almost exclusively in terms of Parker. We (North) Americans are often accused of cultural arrogance, and sometimes we even deserve the accusations. But I know from Disher's short story "My Brother Jack" that he loves to play literary games. I'd say that at least in this first of his Wyatt novels, he renders tribute to Stark and Parker, playing the high and amusing game of imitating Stark in details while remaining different in the essentials, and trying to write a compelling story at the same time. He succeeds.
Besides, the borrowing may run both ways. In addition to the similarity in titles between the later Parker novels and those of the Wyatt books of a few years earlier, Stark appears to have borrowed a detail or two from Disher. An improvised door alarm from Stark's Ask the Parrot (2006), for example, is virtually identical to one from Kickback (1991).
© Peter Rozovsky 2006
Australian crime fiction