Richard Stark's Parker and Garry Disher's Wyatt are a case of literary tribute and possibly symbiosis like none other that I know. Parker, created in 1962, is a prototypical professional, an unsentimental planner of elaborate capers who kills only when necessary but does not hesitate to kill when he must. So is Wyatt, created thirty years later.

Each is identified only by his last name. Each is harassed by the mob, which is called, in both cases, "the Outfit," and each vows to go after the Outfit to stop the harassment. Each plans holdups that are threatened by one amateur, loose cannon, or screwup, and each works just a few times a year, spending most of the rest of the time in resorts..

Though the characters are not identical, the similarities go far beyond coincidence, as Disher himself seems to acknowledge in his delightful story "My Brother Jack." And the borrowing may run both ways. Stark wrote Parker novels regularly from 1962 through 1974; DIsher began the Wyatt series in 1991 with Kickback and followed that with Paydirt, Deathdeal and Crosskill. When Stark revived Parker starting in 1997, he did so in novels called Comeback, Backflash, Flashfire, Firebreak and Breakout. In addition to the obvious similarity in titles, 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).

So much for the facts. Here's the question: Have either Stark, otherwise known as Donald E. Westlake, or Disher ever discussed these similarities and borrowings? Both authors are known for mischievous literary tricks. Has either ever spoken publicly about the other?

Peter

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Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

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Comment by pr on March 20, 2007 at 11:47am
The Wyatt books can be hard to find in the U.S., but they're worth seeking out (and mail service from Australia is good). My friendly neighborhood secondhand-book dealer knew enough about my tastes to snap up a copy of Port Villa Blues recently, which he sold to me for a reasonable price.

If you like the Parker novels, you may well enjoy the Wyatt books, as I did, both for the differences and the similarities.

The Hal Challis novels seem to enjoy better overseas distribution than the Wyatt books. And Robert: I highly endorse Karen as a source for what needs knowing about Australian crime fiction.
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Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
http://detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/
Comment by Karen from AustCrime on March 20, 2007 at 11:29am
Just a quick note - Garry Disher has two main crime fiction series - Wyatt and Hal Challis. The style of each series is very different.

If you need it, we've got the books categorised into the two groups at:

http://www.austcrimefiction.org/index.php/Disher%2C_Garry
Comment by Robert Gregory Browne on March 20, 2007 at 6:17am
I'll definitely have to give his books a look. It's just the kind of stuff I love. Thanks for the heads up.
Comment by pr on March 20, 2007 at 5:18am
When I wrote about Westlake's mischievous streak, I was thinking of his sharing chapters with Joe Gores or giving two of his books the same opening chapter.

Perhaps I'm too willing to look at the good side of things, but there are enough differences between Wyatt and Parker for me to regard Disher's efforts as homage rather than plagiarism. (I wrote about some of the differences at http://detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/2006/11/kickback-garry-dishers-thriller-and.html AND http://detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/2006/11/garry-dishers-kickback.html ) Whether Westlake feels the same way, I have no idea.

Among the pleasures of the Wyatt books -- and among the features that distinguish them from the Parkers -- is just enough unfamiliar language to spice things up for this North American reader (" ... they were too up themselves to be sus about what he did for a crust.") That's wonderful.
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Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
http://detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/
Comment by Robert Gregory Browne on March 20, 2007 at 2:44am
With the number of pen names Westlake has used, it makes you wonder if he isn't having fun with us.

I've never read Disher's books, but it sounds like I will be since I'm a diehard Parker fan. But it annoys me a little that he would write such a Parker-like character. I have wanted for years to do an updated version of Parker, but have held back because I thought it smacked of plagiarism.

Apparently not...

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