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Another fine mess

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Wyatt - Garry Disher A deadpan criminal known simply by surname, the kind of guy whose cool calculations can lead to violent retribution or a diffident dispassion, depending on the practical utility of these options, Wyatt is not Parker but Disher's poured his lead from the same mold. Cameos by minor characters named Parker and Grofield offer more than a wink to the great work of Richard Stark, may he rest in peace. But Wyatt can't be reduced to a thudding, sincere bar-band cover -- Disher's more like ELO to Stark's Beatles: his approach is full of familiar melodies, but the song's his own.

Bad news first: calling attention to a predecessor can distract with distinctions that underscore the earlier model, even if those differences are not deal-breakers. Parker loathed casual conversation, and so does Wyatt. Disher, however, tells us at least three times that Wyatt doesn't like casual conversation, whereas Stark/Westlake cut most exposition from his novels. There is also a tendency toward outsized dimwitted foils in both men's work, but there are moments here--particularly with the tedious Khandi Kane--where there's more of a cartoon outline for a character than the expert sketch drawn in three or four sharp lines.

Enough with the whining: where Disher excels is in the efficient, tricky and propulsive plotting. He'll carefully lay out the premises for a confrontation, putting the gun up on the wall, but then--wham--a knife slips in under the ribs before you expected it, while your eyes are on the pistol. The book zips along, casually zigging away from expectations, even as it steers with admirable ruthlessness down the well-defined path of this sort of heist thriller. There are moments of lovely prose--unshowy snapshots of the landscape, the social mores of this gang of thieves, the motivations driving character. And there are some wonderful characters--Wyatt, the courier Le Page, the collaborator Lydia--who seize attention.

In short, Wyatt is no casual theft nor simply an homage--he's a strong character in his own right, and Disher's a solid writer, and Wyatt is a fine novel. I'll be working my way back through the series, as well as checking out Disher's other series (a police procedural).

Thanks to NetGalley and SoHo Press for the advance edition.