THROWBACK THURSDAY: Deathdeal by Garry Disher (1993)
Garry Disher burst on the Australian crime fiction scene in 1991 with the first novel about the amoral, professional thief Wyatt, Kickback. This was quickly followed by Paydirt in 1992.
The first two books were heavily influenced by Elmore Leonard and the Parker series by Richard Stark (Donald Westlake). However, by the time of the third novel, Deathdeal, Disher was beginning to hits his strides as a crime writer.
Deathdeal opens with Wyatt on the run from the payroll robbery that went violently wrong in Paydirt. Quickly running out of options, Wyatt finds that a new player has entered the hunt in the form of a crooked ex-cop called Stolle who has orders to recruit Wyatt for a bank heist worth two million dollars in Brisbane. It also brings Wyatt back in touch with fellow crook Anna Reid from Kickback and into a world of trouble.
The book starts abruptly with a violent opening sentence that Richard Stark would have been proud of:
“There were two of them and they came in hard and fast.”
From there Deathdeal unfolds at a brisk pace with Wyatt desperately trying to dodge cops, contract hitmen and amateurs out for the reward. There is also the planning of a violent bank robbery, the inevitable betrayals and even a prison break.
Deathdeal is a quick read with plenty of violence and action. Disher’s stripped down narration suits Wyatt’s uncluttered view of life and helps keep the tension and suspense high. There are subtle, sharp observations on Australian life, but these do not get in the way of the story. The characterisations are more developed in Deathdeal than previously and Disher skillfully makes the reader feel some sympathy for his band of crooks. It it also brings together elements from the first two novels and the conclusion nicely sets up the tone for the following books in the series.
Disher wrote another three Wyatt books before taking a thirteen year break in the series after The Fallout (1997). He returned to his professional thief in the eponymous Wyatt (2010), which is probably the best book in the series. There has since been two more books, The Heat (2015) and Kill Shot (2018).
The style of the books is very similar to the Parker novels, even down to each of them only being known by their last name, and the stories often follow a common path of planning and executing a robbery followed by betrayal and revenge. In looking at the first three books in the series it is interesting to note the attempts in the packaging to copy an American style with references on the covers to the Outfit (not an Australian term) and scores (which again is not really an Australian phrase and brings to mind the run of Parker novels with Score in the title).
Although they are a little derivative, they are among my favourite Australian crime fiction books and I always look forward to a new criminal outing by Wyatt. I also think that they have improved over time, and 2010’s Wyatt is a stand out novel with much richer plotting and characters than the earlier books. It also does a good job of making the reader care for Disher’s hard-bitten, career criminal, without ever seeking to unrealistically soften Wyatt or make him an admirable person.
If you have not yet tried the Wyatt novels, it is time you did!
The Wyatt novels:
Port Vila Blues (1996)
The Fallout (1997)
The Heat (2015)
Kill Shot (2018)
They are all available on kindle or in book form.