Writer Nic Pizzolatto has enjoyed a meteoric rise with the success of his current TV Show, True Detective, and now his debut novel Galveston is being released for the first time in the UK. It's a breezy, perceptive potboiler about a dying man on the run in the American Deep South; escaping the hell on Earth he inhabits to the sanctuary of his reimagined past.
The novel has a deep resemblance to the HBO show currently airing on Sky Atlantic, with both set in the beautiful but tainted landscape of Texas and Louisiana, a polluted bayou of sin, corruption and death. In these places life is cheap, and ultimately controlled by outside forces, be it tempestuous weather or the inexorability of time.
The novel's lead character, middle-aged alcoholic Roy Cady, also has something of Matthew McConaughey's Detective Rust Cohle in him. In this case he's a hired goon who discovers that his cancerous lungs are, "full of snow flurries". Rather than breaking bad, the bad has broken him. This, plus a routine operation gone wrong, causes the already dying man to go on the run in order to save his life and seek redemption, by protecting the two girls he encounters, the troubled 18-year-old Rocky, and her three-year-old sister Tiffany.
Pizzolatto writes with a pulp fiction sharpness, the narrative bustling along as he every now and then brushes out Roy's thoughts and feelings and the landscape around him. It's no surprise he drifted into television writing, for there is something wholly cinematic in both his descriptions of the world and the genres he works in. As this passage shows: "Farther out, the gray cypress of the pier has rotted and the boards are broken and collapse into the brassy fog. A few gulls perch on the posts near the end of the thing, their chests out like tiny presidents. Fiddler crabs scuttle away from my feet. The clam, rhythmic slap of the tide. You can see the winds building farther out in the Gulf – the sky beginning to stir in a very low, sweeping churn. The weather makes the bolts in my skull seem to tighten".
Roy here is a western gunslinger, the lone figure outside the law who resists civilisation, caught up in a tale of treachery and deceit. Its closest comparison is with Cormac McCarthy's No Country for Old Men, as this Southern Noir perfectly amalgamates untamed landscape with seedy society to present a dark and vicious backwater, a place where men are weak and women are heartless.
That might be a tad unfair on some of the female characters, especially Rocky, who through little pieces of information we are given a rough outline of how her harsh upbringing has shaped her unstable personality today. But women are still all seen from an intensely male perspective. Roy comments about Rocky, "I could make out from here the bruising on her thigh, but she still looked good, that lean body and rosy pale skin, the lithe muscle and truly first-rate butt. Part of Rocky was this great beauty she wouldn't let in to the light yet, because it had never found its proper place. I believe that".
Pizolatto faced the same criticism for lacking developed female characters in True Detective as well. He is only keeping to genre conventions, presenting women as liars and whores, controllers of men only through using their body, but it does mean that there is nothing in Galveston that we haven't already seen before.
What is impressive is that for a debut novel, he manages to put in all these ingredients from various other elements of crime fiction, and serve up a story which whilst familiar still feels fresh and enriching. It is Pizzolatto's feel for time, place and character which makes Galveston stand out from the genre.
Galveston will be released in the UK on 27 March.