Much like his acclaimed HBO series True Detective, Nic Pizzolatto’s Galveston unravels at a luxuriant pace. But Pizzolatto’s prose is never indulgent, and is never anything less than utterly enthralling. Galveston is underpinned by the irrepressible sense of death. It lurks on every page, sometimes displayed outright, but more often nuanced behind the author’s turn of phrase. Few debuts are as supercharged with as much confidence as this.
When Roy Cady, a bagman for a local mob enforcer, is diagnosed with lung cancer, he’s convinced its terminal. Reeling from the diagnosis, speculating over what this means for his future, now confined to an undeterminable schedule, Cady accepts a job from his boss because, for now, the clock is still ticking, and life must go on: he’s not dead yet, after all. But the job is a set-up. Cady’s boss wants him eliminated; Cady bedded the wrong woman. Through good fortune rather than skill, he survives, fleeing with a runaway, Rocky, and very soon another, a young three-year-old girl. Cady’s now tasked with keeping these strangers alive, in the short time he has left, as he battles his inner demons and harsh truths from his past – specifically an old lover.
Then the narrative flashes forward twenty years. And Cady, somehow, is still alive. But what about the girls? Like True Detective, the novel shifts back and forth, sparking revelations and clouding the fates of its protagonists. Because of underlying pessimism, however, we are never in doubt: there isn’t going to be a happy ending.
Admirably, Pizzolatto doesn’t overstuff Galveston. It’s deceptively simple, a deeply character-focused slow-burn crime novel, punctuated with moments of brutal violence. Its finale deviates from formula, evading the pedestrian showdown between Cady and his opponents. In that respect, Pizzolatto pulls the rug out from under the reader’s feet, demonstrating an insatiable assuredness in his storytelling.
There are no heroes in Galveston; just survivors. But survival has a price, and Pizzolatto makes his characters pay in full.