Sunday, May 3, 2009

Review of Pariah

Question: Who do you have to kill to get a book deal?

Answer: A ten-year-old hemophiliac.

At least according to Dave Zeltserman. His latest novel, Pariah (Serpent's Tail, 2009), tells the story of Kyle Nevin, gangster from Southie, who gets released from prison after an eight-year stretch for bank robbery and decides to go after "Red" Mahoney, his former employer and the one who set him up to take a fall. Mahoney has disappeared, however, and Nevin needs money to look for him, so he plans a kidnapping. The kidnapping goes wrong, Nevin is caught, and, due to some prosecutorial shenanigans, gets off scott-free. Nevin's new notoriety leads to a two-book deal with a major publishing house.

Zeltserman's last novel, Small Crimes, featured disgraced cop Joe Denton, who was one of the most loathsome characters to ever crawl out of someoneone's imagination. Nevin is even worse than Denton. Every time you think that he has surely reached bottom and can't possibly behave in a more repugnant fashion, Zeltserman has his anti-hero find a new low. Nevin is genuinely frightening because his actions are entirely rational, and his crimes are plausible. Forget cartoon psychos who skin young women to make designer handbags, Zeltserman has succeeded in bringing a blithely psychopatic character to the page who will chill the blood.

Despite the utter moral bankruptcy of the main character, Pariah is gripping as opposed to repugnant. Zeltserman's writing and plotting are sharp and the plot is immaculately crafted. The only other author writing about such venal characters with such an incisive eye is Jason Starr, and some of Starr's characters are downright cuddly when compared to Zeltserman's. Pariah is a scathing rebuke of society's obsession with fame, and mythologizing of gangsters and the repugnant moral calculus that allows them to victimize innocent people with impunity. Zeltserman points out that we can embrace a monster, but not a dishonest monster. He's the guy who tells a newly engaged woman that her shiny, new diamond ring likely helped finance a pointless, bloody civil war in Africa, and besides, it's just another goddamn rock. It's an ugly thing to say, but it's entirely true, so what're you gonna do?

As it happens, I have a spare copy of Pariah, which is not getting an American release until October, so send an email to IndieCrime-at-gmail dot com, with "Contest" in the subject line and your name and mailing address in the body. I will pick a winner next Sunday. (Winners are picked using a random number generator).

1 comment:

Corey Wilde said...

I'm really looking forward to reading this one.