Nic Pizzolatto’s first novel, Galveston, was published in 2010. Prior to that he wrote a book of short stories that appeared in 2006. It’s fair to say most people didn’t hear about Galveston until the screening in January this year of Pizzolatto’s groundbreaking television show, True Detective.
Since then I have not been able to move on social media for the number of people talking about how good Galveston is (which begs the question, is True Detective the longest book trailer ever made?).
Given my obsession with True Detective (which I reviewed for the Overland Journal site here), I was keen to read Galveston as soon as possible.
The short version of this review is that if you like True Detective, you’ll love this book. It’s as simple as that. The book and the show have a number of things in common, including the same rural southern US setting, a number of similar plot devices and the writing style.
Roy Cady is a bagman and thug for a New Orleans’ mobster called Stan Ptitko. The same day a doctor tells Cady he has terminal cancer, Ptitko orders him and another man to visit the president of the local dockworkers local, now the target of a federal criminal investigation. Ptitko tells the two men to lean on the target, make sure he gets the message not to cooperate with the probe.
They enter the target’s house to find he’s already dead. There are also two women present, one of whom is near dead and three armed masked men who kill Cady’s partner and are about to do the same to him. Cady manages to kill all three men and escape with the surviving woman, a young prostitute called Rocky, and a folder full of cargo manifests and other paperwork.
They flee, only stopping to collect Rocky’s little sister, Tiffany, from a run down house in the woods. They end up in a flee bag hotel by the beach in Galveston, Texas. Cady plans to dump the woman and her daughter and keep running, but something prevents him from leaving.
PIzzolatto uses a similar plot device to one he used in True Detective, flash-forwards of Cady in Galveston twenty years later. He is preparing for a huge storm that is approaching town, when he notices someone watching him from behind the wheel of an expensive looking car.
One one level, there is nothing particularly new or complex about this book. The main character is a washed up violent criminal who has no fear because he already believes death is only a matter of time due to his cancer. Rocky is a damaged hustler who can’t stop herself from engaging in harmful behaviour to herself and those around her. Pizzolatto adds a cast of supporting characters, other residents of the motel, some of who are kind while others are dangerous
What makes this book so readable is the writing, which is terrific, if at times a touch over done. Pizzolatto is particularly in his element when describing the run down beauty of Louisiana and Texas, a ghostly landscape populated only by the old, the criminally inclined and those too poor or sick to leave.
As was the case in his television series, the story is messy and a lot is left unexplained. Things just happen, people act certain ways. Pizzolatto doesn’t feel the next to explain why this is, as in real life, shit just happens, often very quickly and things immediately move on.
If you don’t like that this book will probably annoy the hell out of you. I loved the True Detective series and I devoured this book in a couple of days.