BOOKS: Garry Disher’s Kill Shot. Ma­rina Ben­jamin’s In­som­nia. Se­bas­tian Smee’s Net Loss QE.

The Saturday Paper - - Contents -

Look up “hard-boiled” in the dic­tionary and you may well see a photo of ev­ery­one’s favourite mas­ter thief: Wy­att, Garry Disher’s taut, re­pressed old-style vil­lain. Ex­cept, of course, that no clear photo of Wy­att ex­ists. He has no Chris­tian name. He’s a phantom, a loner, a man who should be played by Liam Nee­son in a movie be­cause Wy­att also has a very par­tic­u­lar set of skills. Skills he has ac­quired over a very long ca­reer. In Kill

Shot, our an­ti­hero has been trans­planted to coastal Syd­ney and New­cas­tle from his usual haunts in Vic­to­ria, but that’s the only ap­pre­cia­ble dif­fer­ence in this, Disher’s ninth Wy­att caper crime thriller. Kill Shot is just as classy and en­joy­able as Wy­atts one through eight, pro­pelled by Disher’s im­pec­ca­ble plot­ting and bril­liant nar­ra­tive drive, char­ac­ter­i­sa­tion and pace.

Wy­att plots have a typ­i­cal shape and Kill Shot is no ex­cep­tion. Wy­att ally

Sam Kramer is away in prison for a long stretch but his con­nec­tions are still at work, un­cov­er­ing larce­nous op­por­tu­ni­ties. Kramer passes these tips to hon­ourable thief Wy­att for a healthy com­mis­sion that Wy­att uses to look af­ter Kramer’s wheel­chair-bound wife while he’s in­side. Wy­att has some his­tory

here, in­clud­ing a past af­fair with Kramer’s smart and sound daugh­ter, Phoebe, but the weak link is Kramer’s son, Joshua. He’s the fam­ily black sheep and loose can­non, and pro­ceeds to tell the wrong peo­ple, a dan­ger­ous crew of for­mer mil­i­tary snipers, that Wy­att is sit­ting on a large nest egg be­long­ing to his dad. Then Kramer points Wy­att to Ponzi-schem­ing scum­bag Jack Tre­mayne as an ideal tar­get beg­ging to be re­lieved of ill-got­ten gains.

De­tec­tive Sergeant Greg Muecke is also on Wy­att’s trail for a string of un­solved bur­glar­ies, if he can get his bosses to lis­ten. Pres­sure is mount­ing on Kramer in prison, and Tre­mayne is fac­ing fraud charges and is sur­rounded by pos­si­ble traitors, all of whom want the money. The Pro­bity Com­mis­sion is mon­i­tor­ing his ac­counts, and the ripped­off in­vestors are grow­ing an­gry. Has all the money gone, as Tre­mayne claims? The net – made up of the ex-soldiers, the cops and Tre­mayne him­self – tight­ens around Wy­att. Can he es­cape with Tre­mayne’s stash?

Kill Shot is easy to read and to en­joy, but Disher’s skill shouldn’t be un­der­es­ti­mated: this kind of writ­ing is more dif­fi­cult than it looks, and it all starts with

the im­pec­ca­ble char­ac­ter of Wy­att, the vil­lain as hero. Wy­att’s a ca­reer crim­i­nal who breaks into peo­ple’s houses, scares them half to death and steals their hard­earned money– yet read­ers have no prob­lem cheer­ing him on. This is partly be­cause of Disher’s classy plots, where Wy­att is the lesser evil com­pared with the re­ally bad guys seek­ing to bring him down.

Most of his rich tar­gets are dick­heads, yes, but we’re cheer­ing for Wy­att largely be­cause of Disher’s su­pe­rior char­ac­ter con­struc­tion. Wy­att is with­out the clas­sic traits that bring read­ers on­side: he’s not wise-crack­ing or weirdly en­ter­tain­ing. He has not taken a young, vul­ner­a­ble rob­ber un­der his wing and he does not res­cue cats in his spare time. He’s tac­i­turn, and what’s more, he spends large stretches of time by him­self, go­ing through the me­chan­ics of crime. Yet we feel we know Wy­att. He’s a long way from per­fect, but we un­der­stand his bound­aries and his eth­i­cal core. He’s very good at his job, and it’s en­tranc­ing to watch some­one with phys­i­cal and mental dex­ter­ity per­form dif­fi­cult work. Disher’s de­scrip­tions are so fresh and clean, it’s as if we are see­ing Wy­att. And we can sym­pa­thise with him. He’s a loner, but he’s still alone, and be­com­ing more aware of what he’s miss­ing. He’s in­creas­ingly out of his depth with tech­nol­ogy. He’s ageing. He’s the kind of man who, when switch­ing chan­nels to un­wind while lay­ing low, finds “… an ap­par­ently me­dieval world in which hu­mans of mod­ern sen­si­bil­ity spoke like seers. Their queen was named Cal­isi, which Wy­att had thought was a control virus for rab­bits.” The world is chang­ing and he’s not keep­ing up. It’s like look­ing in a mirror, ex­cept­ing the bul­let scars. Small won­der that read­ers re­late to him rather than the cop­pers – al­though Sergeant Muecke is pretty sim­i­lar to Wy­att, on the other side

of the law. If the two of them met over a beer when they were off the clock, they’d prob­a­bly get on.

Set­ting is im­por­tant in crime fic­tion and Wy­att’s so­journ to coastal New South Wales opens Kill Shot to new pos­si­bil­i­ties in plot and char­ac­ter­i­sa­tion. This isn’t the New­cas­tle of the tourism brochures: the sea is choppy, the weather is men­ac­ing, and there’s a feel­ing of edge-of-a-cliff ex­po­sure to the el­e­ments that in­creases the ten­sion of the story. There’s noth­ing cosy or soft any­where: the Ponzi-schemer Tre­mayne and tro­phy-wife Lynx have a sit­ting room that “… looked like a cor­po­rate foyer with chrome, leather and glass, and the An­tique White walls. But the leather was im­ported, the Ken Done paint­ings were gen­uine and you could buy a car with what they’d spent on the rug, so fuck you.”

The glam­our that comes with riches is tainted and false; even Tre­mayne’s mil­lion­dol­lar yacht is con­fined and des­o­late, rather than an ide­alised mil­lion­aire’s dream. In these ex­pen­sive houses, money brings noth­ing but trou­ble. It’s al­most like Wy­att’s do­ing them all a favour in re­liev­ing them of it. “These are some pretty aw­ful peo­ple,” Wy­att thinks, to­wards the end, and he’s right.

The first Wy­att novel, Kick­back, was pub­lished in 1991, and Disher con­tin­ues to im­bue both this se­ries and his po­lice pro­ce­du­rals fea­tur­ing cop­pers Chal­lis and Destry with thrills and a wry com­men­tary about the state of the na­tion. He also wrote the book on mas­ter­ing fic­tion (Writ­ing Fic­tion: An in­tro­duc­tion to the craft) and well un­der­stands the world of crime nov­els and his place in it. (Touch­ingly, the build­ing in New­cas­tle that houses one of Tre­mayne’s cronies is called Cor­ris House.) Kill Shot is both a great read and a touch­stone for any­one plan­ning a life of writ­ing crime. LS

Text, 256pp, $29.99

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.