Monday, January 31, 2011

THE DEPUTY by Victor Gischler

THE DEPUTY by Victor Gischler Tyrus Books, 9781935562009 (pb) / 9781935562016 (hb)
Victor Gischler’s THE DEPUTY is one of those hick-town hardboiled books that always draw me in. Set in one of those small US towns with a population where everyone knows damn near everyone else and where the police are as local as they come, it’s the story of a newly minted Deputy who gets in over his head when he stumbles over a local conspiracy.

The Deputy in question is Toby Sawyer. He’s a directionless kind of guy who’s fallen into this line of work after his dreams of becoming a musician fell apart and he got stuck in his home town. Now he’s stuck doing shit work as the new deputy and running between the mother of his child and his younger, wilder lover. He’s not a bad guy as such, but he’s not the hero type.

And he’s certainly not a natural law enforcement. Left to guard the dead body of a local kid, he gets distracted and winds up losing the body. This is is just the start of a nightmare for Toby who soons finds himself in real trouble, struggling to keep his head above water.

Gischler’s previous novels run the gamut starting with Leonardesque novels of criminals and hit men (GUN MONKEY, SHOTGUN OPERA) before moving to apocalyptic SF (GO GO GIRLS OF THE APOCALYPSE) and frequent comic book work for Marvel Comics. So its nice to see him return to the genre where he started. If anything, as good notice as Gun Monkey and Shotgun Opera had on their release, The Deputy blows them right out of the water.

Gischler’s voice feels more confident and his evocation of small town life is wonderful, as he evokes both the boredom of being stuck in the place where everyone knows everyone else and the fear that something dark is hiding just beneath the surface of the community.

Sawyer is a perfect protagonist; an ordinary guy who finds himself in over his head. He’s no hero, per-se, although he may be forced to act like one, and its telling that when the book starts off he’s wearing his tin badge over a t-shirt. This guy is no law enforcement officer, Gischler’s telling us, he’s just some guy who found himself in this place with no plan and no idea. By the end of the book, of course, he’s something else entirely, and Gischler shows this evolution of character in a kind of subtle way, so that its only by the end of the book we realise what’s been happening and how Sawyer has been changed. It’s a great arc and like the best arcs you don’t realise what’s happening until the very last page; its organically handled.

But this is a Gischler novel, which means that while there my subtlety in craft, on the surface there’s some rip-roaring violence (in one particular case that made me wince, the word rip is horrifically appropriate) some damn fine jokes and a momentum that pulls the reader through until the last page.

Perhaps some of the elements of the plot – the small town corruption that Sawyer uncovers along with its major players are perhaps of little surprise to anyone familiar with the genre – are nothing new, but Gischler’s confident prose, gripping set-pieces and well-drawn characters more than make up for this.

The Deputy is a fast-paced, gripping small town hardboiled novel with a well-crafted protagonist and compelling action. Perfect for fans of Elmore Leonard, Patrick Quinlan or anyone who just loves a damn good crime novel.

Russel D McLean for crimescenescotlandreviews, 31/01/11