Roy Cady is by his own admission “a bad man”. With a snow flurry of cancer in his lungs and no one to live for, he’s a walking time-bomb of violence. Following a fling with his boss’s lover, he’s sent on a routine assignment he knows is a death trap. Yet after a smoking spasm of violence, Roy’s would-be killers are mostly dead and he is mostly alive.
Before Roy makes his getaway, he finds a beaten-up woman in the apartment, and sees something in her frightened, defiant eyes that causes a crucial decision. He takes her with him on the run from New Orleans to Galveston, Texas, permanently entwining their fate along a highway of seedy bars and fleabag hotels, a world of treacherous drifters, pick-up trucks, and ashed-out hopes, with death just a car-length behind.
Only after finishing this novel, did I learn that Pizzolatto is the creator of HBO’s critically-acclaimed True Detective series (starring Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConnaughey). I can certainly see it, now, though. This is a good thriller: very well-written and fast-paced. However, it also left me slightly dissatisfied at the end.
The story is told from the perspective of Roy, a bagman for a crook in New Orleans. After the set-up (mentioned in the synopsis, above), he escapes bruised and brutalised, taking with him Rocky (Raquel), the partner of a prostitute who was turning a trick at the home of the trap. Roy soon finds that, despite a desire to ditch Rocky (and her toddler ‘sister’, Tiffany, who they pick up on the way to Texas), he can’t seem to follow through. Ruminating on his life and his pending death-by-cancer, he develops a wary connection with Rocky and Tiffany. Definitely attracted to Rocky, he is unwilling to allow himself to accept any of her advances – at first, somewhat business-like, but later perhaps genuine. Instead, he plays a role of protector and, in some ways, rehabilitator – a somewhat ironic role, given his own past actions (not to mention present/future actions that he commits over the course of the story).
Pizzolatto writes incredibly well: his prose is stripped back, fluid and sparse. There isn’t a redundant phrase or extraneous word in sight. This has the positive effect of making this a very quick read (I read the first 10% on a Saturday night, after finishing another novel, and blitzed through the rest on Sunday). However, it does also mean certain things aren’t developed too much. There is a fever-like quality to Roy’s recollection and narrative – he is, after all, a practicing alcoholic who necks one hell of a lot of bourbon in these pages…
By the end of the novel, I felt pretty invested in these characters’ fates. But, given the very brisk pacing, by the brutal end, the dénouement was robbed of some impact, while remaining tragic. It was a peculiar feeling, really. Slightly disconnected.
Nevertheless, Galveston is still well-worth checking out. Pizzolatto has a great style, and can only get better. I am definitely looking forward to reading his next novel, and also watching True Detective.