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on 4 June 2014
I had high hopes for Galveston. The tags are all there. The awards, nominations and reviews collected. The ball is in my park. It almost lived up to my expectations, too, only just not quite.
I have some mixed feelings about the book. I feel that the word-for-word writing is very good. That each vignette is well crafted and pitched in the required tone for the moment, this usually being in the minor key.
The central characters are strong and interesting and their lives haven’t been easy. I can say this because there’s plenty of back-story to back this up.
There’s also a pretty good plot in there. Hard man working for the mob falls foul of his bosses, is set up and manages to get out of a tight spot, goes on the run and picks up a prostitute who becomes his buddy along the way. The guy has just found out he has only a little time to live and the woman has no idea how to survive in the world if the sex is taken out of it.
What didn’t quite work for me was the way all of the individual parts were put together. The rhythms of the piece are a little erratic and the slower sections lumber in places. There are also elements to the story that seem overly contrived. An example of this is the relationship between the 2 runners which never seems to quite fit. They really shouldn’t stay together and even with their battered past and need for something in their lives, they make a pretty unlikely match.
The overall arc contains a tragic tale and the grim images and thoughts of the protagonist, Roy Cady, are often beautifully expressed. Some of the prose is truly stunning. There are many lines and expressions of pain and sadness that are remarkable and, to my mind, this is the big strength of the book. The ending is one of those seriously good moments and is quite sublime.
Recommended for the quality of the prose, the settings, tones and the vignettes rather than as a thriller.
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on 30 September 2014
It is clear this novel shares DNA with the wonderful True Detective. Both are set in the sinister and atmospheric deep south. Both have troubled and alienated protagonists trying to navigate through this landscape whilst facing ghosts from their pasts. Both use structures that jump back and forward over decades to tell the story.

Galveston was deeply satisfying for me on various levels. The plot is really good and had me engaged right to the end and has kept me thinking about how neatly it all hangs together right to the end. But it is more than a tough guy redemption thriller. It also explores some interesting and thought-provoking themes.

A major part of this novel is based on how the protagonist's behaviour, attitudes and and world view change when he learns he is dying of cancer. This gangster hitman only starts making selfless and brave decisions when he thinks he is dying. He was perfectly capable of escaping the mess he was in provided he stuck to his professional methods. But this time he didn't. People often say that if they have just a few months to live they would party like it is the end of the world. I dont buy it. Maybe confronting our mortality makes us better people?

Another theme he toys with is the unreliablity of memories. His rose-coloured memories of his relationship with a long lost love were shaken back to reality when he tracked her down and she told it like it was. Again by shattering the story he had told himself about his own life focussed him on his present and creating a meaning for his life once freed from the myth.

Lookiing forward to the next one
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VINE VOICEon 21 May 2014
Set mainly in 1987 this award-winning first novel by the creator of HBO's True Detective (not seen it) is a terrific read.

In the first few chapters the action moves quickly before changing pace, allowing the characters backstories, personalities and the plot to develop.

It's a story about Roy Cody. A hit-man with cancer and a drink problem. His girlfriend leaves him for his mobster boss, and Roy subsequently finds himself taking on a job for him that goes wrong, and he has to run- taking a teenage prostitute with him.

They head out of Louisiana for Texas, and ultimately, Galveston.

What follows is the story of people brought together by loss, tragedy and rejection. Cody remains on the run, haunted by his past, living his life out amongst out-casts and mis-fits, trying to second guess how long he can hold out against his condition and circumstances.

The description of the South is as cinematic as you'd expect from a screenwriter. You feel the intensity of the southern heat, the vastness of the plains, the trashiness of the port towns along the coast and the bleached weariness of the Emerald Shores Motel.

Things don't end well, but the thing that keeps you turning the page and caring for these characters are the glimpses of humanity they all exhibit.

These aren't cardboard noir cut-outs, but well-drawn characters wrapped up in a cracking read.
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on 14 March 2014
So a few nights ago I was wandering around my home town, singing the theme from True Detective at the top of my lungs and wondering what the hell happened to my Batman pyjamas. An acoustic accompaniment surged up from the brickwork and echoed along the inky blackness of the Leeds/Liverpool like the ghosts of dead navvies playing for their souls. And then I woke up, lurid trouserware restored. You can't get away from Nic Pizzolatto's enthralling tv series even in the embrace of Morpheus. Having reached episode three, further research revealed the writer and brainchild behind the series had written a fairly well received novel. So here it is. It tells the story of Roy Cady or rather Roy tells his own story. He's a bagman for a New Orleans loan shark named Stan Ptitko. Roy gets a double life changing alarm call in the shape of lung cancer and an attempt to set him up for the big sleep by his own boss. What our unreliable narrator steers our gaze away from is just how bad a man Roy Cady is, his job description often going way beyond threats with menaces. Roy is very good at making other people dead. He survives his date with death, killing everyone at the double cross and along with the only other survivor, a young prostitute, the two of them hit the road.
It would be a stretch to describe the book as a crime thriller though it certainly occupies the framework of a crime novel but like its protagonist it wants to be something else. Pizzolatto is far more committed to exploring human nature. Roy is the archetypal killer. It's the man's one true tallent. And he wants to change. Wants to draw a line. He's confronted with his own mortality which forces him to look into the shadows of his own character. He sees the young prostitute, Rocky, as being something still unminted. She's the vamp - the femme fatale but Roy still sees the archetypal ingenue or at least the possibility. If he can't save himself, then maybe he can save her. But Rocky has her own dark secrets and motivations that confound Roy's expectations. The crime novel has never been a genre that disregarded the philosophical but generally it would be used to colour the narrative and add depth and substance to the characters, rather than actually being the focus, with the plot and narrative falling behind to mere backdrop. There are some big ideas and complex philosophical conundrums going on that Galvaston with its always sunny beach and Motel populated with broken or lost humanity, somehow serves up the time to explore them in a pulp sized burp of fiction. And like in True Detective, Pizzolatto uses the passage of time to show a more complete picture of the life tracks involved. People change and one smiling snapshot in the sun tells nothing at all. The author's writing is insightful, colourful, entertaining and challenging. Some of the early chapters are filled with some eyebrow lifting metaphor and imagery but it soon gets reigned in as Pizzolatto finds his stride. A true page turner.
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on 29 August 2014
Nic Pizzolatto's 'True Detective' was stylish and dense (good score too), but the over-stuffed, often-ludicrous dialogue and plot were carried only by the force of the actors. 'Galveston' is written in a more minor key. If you're looking for an action-packed 'tec novel full of brainsplatter and chases, then look elsewhere; this is very much the story of one man's struggle to find, yep you've guessed it, redemption, after a tawdry life as a bagman/ enforcer. Set initially in the late 80s in the same swampy, industry-polluted nowheres of the deep South that feature so prominently and effectively in 'True Detective', the novel's antihero, Roy Cody, is firstly diagnosed with cancer and then later the same day finds himself in a house facing down three tooled-up Armenians who want to make him their fourth killing of the night. Cody escapes with a bruised and beaten young prostitute in tow and thus begins his journey towards some kind of new life. 'Galveston' is a reflective work that you might find self-indulgent. There is no mystery to solve or bad man to apprehend; Cody spends the rest of the novel reminiscing, drinking and smoking, and trying to avoid becoming sexually inflamed by the sight of the prostitute's behind (where would crime/noir novels be without prostitutes? Sometimes you would think they are the only kind of women who exist in this milieu). The narrative flips back and forth between this story and Cody's life twenty-odd years later (the cancer is of a very idiosyncratic, novelletish kind). It's a pretty good read, and with a keen eye for light and landscape, but the characters are familiar and mostly two-dimensional; Cody is a man much seen in (particularly American) novels - late 30s, friendless, rootless, slightly bitter, sustained only by JD and memories. No masterpiece then, but, thankfully, no serial killers either.
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on 3 May 2014
Anyone expecting this to be like True Detective will be disappointed. That being said, this is a fantastic book and anyone who has seen the show will recognize similar themes and images running throughout, minus the occult.

I chose the title of this review from the book's tag line for a simple reason. The idea of the past following us down whichever road we take in life.
Themes of redemption, violence, abuse and memory populate a book filled with complicated characters, each struggling to make their way in life. All are damaged in some way. Some try to do the right thing and it is this conflict Pizzolatto depicts in all its ugliness. The struggle with ourselves, as much as with forces from the outside.
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VINE VOICEon 12 January 2015
Like many others, I bought this book because I had loved 'True Detective' and I was curious about the writer and his other work. I came away having enjoyed it for its own sake; it has some things in common with the TV drama series - atmosphere, characterisation - but is by no means a spin-off or a cash-in.

Really, 'Galveston' is a slice of noir fiction which could have been filmed in black-and-white in the late 40s or early 50s without seeming too much out of place. Its [anti]hero is a weary hitman called Roy who falls into a kind of love with a sad-eyed escort girl he rescues from a New Orleans crimescene. There's more to both of them than meets the eye, and the narrative switches between their brief platonic romance as they flee to the Texas coast and a timeframe twenty years on, when you might say everything and nothing has changed.

It's hard to say more without spoiling the plot, but the point of Galveston is really its prose - almost Chandleresque in its wry, laconic observation - and the evocation of a feverish, heat-oppressed landscape where people too easily lose hope. The characterisation is solid, though because this is a first-person narrative that's maybe more so for Roy than for the flotsam and jetsam he encounters along the way.

For a short debut novel, thought, it's an impressive achievement, and stays in the mind long afrter the last page is reached.
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on 19 July 2015
To get the best out of reading Galveston the reader has to try to put True Detective back in its box. That said, there are inevitably echoes, such as the flickering imagery of the deep South industrial landscape, oddball minor characters and a narrative which moves backwards and forwards in time. However, the main character engages the reader far more directly in an extended reflection on desire: why it matters, what it costs, where it ends. This is far more of a dialogue with the reader than is possible with TV drama. Nic Pizzolatto pulls all this off pretty well for a first novel, I’d say, and while there are one or two wildly improbable continuity tricks, the story-telling is compellingly graphic. I think he develops and sustains dramatic tension, creates an intriguing imaginative space and induces sympathy for a character who is, at heart, profoundly flawed.
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on 3 August 2014
I purchased this after enjoying the True Detective TV series.

This book details the lives of a couple of individuals who live on the edges of New Orleans crime underworld.
The plot and their lives is pretty bleak and unrelenting. The timeline jumps back and forth between the early 80's and early 2000's. This is done smoothly, and permits the author to cleverly sew hints of what we think will be the ending. But the ending holds some surprises....
Overall, this is a thriller/crime noir, with a triple helping of noir. The ending is not specifically happy, but it does show that small acts of kindness can yield good things. And thus is a somewhat uplifting book, despite the subject matter.
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on 12 February 2015
I really enjoyed Galveston. It was sparse on lyrical prose but it's lean descriptions really gave the book atmosphere. I found it quite sad & bleak & the threat of violence hovering about.It was interspersed with & tiny snatches of hope that never amounted to much else. A fitting thoughtful ending for a change. I hope he writes more soon
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