Monday, 3 June 2019


I don't know what it is about the Gulf Of Mexico, but if there is a better, steamier, darker backdrop for noirish fiction, I can't think of one. Maybe foggy San Francisco. Roy Cady is a strong-arm man working for Stan Ptitko, a big shot gangster in New Orleans. He's not totally in with Stan's crew, partly because he's from Texas, partly because he was inherited from the old crew when Stan took control, and in large part because Roy's old girlfriend Carmen is now Stan's. So one day when Roy is sent to deliver a message to recalcitrant local labor leader, and told not to bring a gun, he brings one anyway. That he's been diagnosed with cancer earlier in the day might have something to do with it too. That's the kind of world Roy lives in.

When Roy and fellow hooligan Angelo break into the house, they're ambushed and when he wakes up, the union guy (called Sienkiewicz, in evident homage to Bill, the amazing graphic artist?) is dead, Angelo's beat up, and a badly-abused woman is wimpering, while another lies dead in the bedroom. Next thing you know, Angelo's dead, three thugs are dead, and Roy and Rocky, no longer wimpering, are on the run, headed for East Texas and winding up in Galveston.

On the way, there's some of Rocky's back-story they need to deal with, which includes a child and more, and once they are in place nothing is going to be easy. But Roy tries. He tries to help Rocky, and her child, and to make himself and them safe. But she's a young woman no one has ever really helped, not without an ulterior motive, and of course she isn't a tough as she thinks she is. It's as close to a straight life as he is ever going to get, and it isn't very straight, and there's nothing that says it's going to last very long.

Galveston is bleakly, darkly noir: the atmosphere is very heavy, the sense of impending tragedy never far away. Nic Pizzolatto was the creator of True Detective, but this book has a lot in common with some graphic novels; I'm thinking in terms of Frank Miller or Ed Brubaker, where the colours are all stark black and white and the situations are bleak. But I was comparing it most to Lou Berney's November Road, both novels where hard men wind up in family situations. There is a difference: although Roy on the surface is a much harder guy, he's less cynical and self-concerned than Frank Guidry. Pizzolatto uses Roy to narrate the story himself, and we know from the first he's a wounded character, even before the cancer is diagnosed, and what transformation we see in him does not come as a huge surprise. In a sense we see it all along, more aware of what kind of man he is than he is himself. Guidry's story is the opposite; it was told in third person, making the growth of his character more distinct, and it's eventual path more more unsure.

Which makes Galveston a violent noir with a heart of gold, and makes Roy Cady a memorable character. It's not hard to see how this 2010 novel served as a springboard for Pizzolatto, who's also written for the US version of The Killing, and wrote the screenplay (eventually under a pseudonym following creative differences) for the film adaptation of this book.

Galveston by Nic Pizzolatto
Sphere £7.99 ISBN 9780751557053

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