Tuesday 3 March 2009

A Wee Review - Pariah by Dave Zeltserman

Dave Zeltserman has a lot going on in Pariah. This novel is a noir crime fiction with social commentary, satire and Boston Irish gangsters. It’s a fictional novel about a crime boss writing about writing his real life story as a work of fiction. Kind of a pseudo-meta-fiction, if you catch my drift.

Kyle Nevin’s just finished an eight year stretch. He could have gotten out early by ratting on Red Mahoney, his old boss, a father figure, and the man who set him up. Instead, he served every single day so that the parole board would have nothing to hold over his head. Besides, according to the Southie code, nothing’s lower than a rat. And so, at the age of forty-two, he needs to reclaim his place in the Boston criminal underworld. To achieve this, all he’s got is his kid brother Danny, a few secret stashes of cash dotted about his beloved city and a kidnapping plan. And then there’s the thing that’s keeping him awake every night. The burning fury that’ll only ease when he tortures Red Mahoney to death.

This about covers the first third of the book, but it’s what comes after the attempted kidnapping that really stands out. FBI investigations. Falsified evidence. Disappearing witnesses. Dodgy dealing in the publishing world. Plagiarism! It’s all in there and more besides.

The novel’s written in a very straightforward and non-flashy manner. Zeltserman spends precious little time on external, descriptive prose. Instead, we’re taken on a tour of Kyle Nevin’s mind. Trust me, it’s not a nice place to visit, never mind live.

I don’t know if I’d describe it as a failing in the book, but I had a lot of trouble feeling any sympathy for the narrator, Nevin. He’s a psycho, and not a particularly charismatic one. There’s a distinct lack of remorse and absolutely no redemption in this character’s journey. In fact, as a reader, I found myself rooting for him to take a tremendous fall. Personally, I like reading about bad people (it makes me feel better about myself, I guess), but I know there are many who would rather read about somebody they could sympathise or identify with on some level. Kyle Nevin is not the man for this. I’d still recommend it, though. There’s a lot more to take from this tale than the mildly bad taste the protagonist’s actions leave in your mouth.

Pariah is a tense, violent and sometimes absurd study of criminality and the world’s obsession with it. Each layer has something to say that’ll leave you thinking, cringing or praying. But I mean that in the best possible way. Another great addition to the Serpent’s Tail stable.


Peter Rozovsky said...

Weird coincidence: I was just visiting some friends in Massachusetts this week, the same weekend the Boston Globe printed a story about Dave Zeltserman. He lives in the same town as the friends I was staying with, so I stopped at his house to pick up "Bad Thoughts" and "Pariah." "Pariah" is based in part on a Boston mobster and killer named Whitey Bulger whose brother became president of the Massachusetts Senate and later of the University of Massachusetts.
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

seana graham said...

And I just posted an odd coincidence about Goya to Peter over on my own blog.

Sim world, you guys. I'm just saying.

I've had various theories over time, but since Peter is the common element here, it follows that it's either Peter's game, or, gulp, his archenemy's.

And my v word=medalsc, clearly meaning 'and the medal goes to Santa Cruz'--Santa Cruz being me.

Gerard Brennan said...

Peter - Yeah, I picked up on the Whitey Bulger thing and found it very interesting. I wonder if Bulger influenced another character we've both read about -- Darkey White. Different city, but who knows? McKinty, I guess.

I'll be posting an interview with Zeltserman tomorrow where he makes reference to the FBI Most Wanted mobster. Stay tuned!

Seana - I find your ideas on this sim-world business intriguing. Do you have a newsletter I can subscribe to?



seana graham said...

Oh, they aren't my ideas--I'm just running with them. I picked up the initial premise over on Adrian's blog. He could tell you the name of the guy who thinks that what we think of as our lives is actually a simulation of a reality long past--or something like that. Probably not very much like that, actually, but I only take in enough of such ideas to entertain myself.

my v word=worko, to which I soon must go, as if I needed a reminder.