Saturday, January 16, 2010

Dark Afternoons, Dark Fiction -- and Fireworks: Dave Zeltserman's PARIAH

We're in the season when northern New Englanders mutter grimly about "cabin fever" -- in spite of the calendar's insistence, afternoons still turn dim after 3 p.m., and it's fully dark at 5. Some January months have abundant sunshine (usually in the years when January breaks records for subzero cold); this one hasn't had enough to cheer anyone, the roads are messy, the snowbanks have grayed with sand, and although it's warm inside, there's a grim awareness of the mounting oil bills. People begin to root into their couches with novel after novel. The walls close in.

When Dave Zeltserman's PARIAH opens, Kyle Nevin is past all that. The June sunshine on his face feels great after eight years in prison. He's looking forward to riding back into Boston as a free man, catching a ride with his brother Danny. And he's got plans, smart ones, honed by a jailhouse education and a sharp sense of what the world owes him.

But life isn't fair: Danny's living straight, in grubby circumstances, with a woman who doesn't even start to move the scales on Kyle's notion of sex and lust. And even as Kyle starts carving his rightful place again in the old neighborhoods, violent and relentless, it's clear the tang and savor of the old years aren't there. Disappointment burns, and soon Kyle's plans ripen early, to take off the depressing edge that's trying to slide into his sudden midlife.

Zeltserman's gift in painting the bitterness of the soul when life hasn't come out "right" adapts readily to the sociopathic personality -- in his hands, Kyle's first post-prison bar fight is inevitable, even glorious, for the adrenaline, the underlying lust, and the power, even if it starts out quiet, almost introspective for this dangerous man:
I looked around and saw smiles stretching on most of the other patrons' faces. A few, though, turned away, their expressions becoming grim as they stared down at their drinks. I noted who they were, and their reactions didn't surprise me.
Clear the room now if you're not ready for the explosions.

As a follow-up to SMALL CRIMES (Dave Zeltserman calls these two volumes the first pair in his post-prison trilogy), this book's edgy, racy, coked up, and violent. And painfully believable. Geez, I could start feeling really grateful after all for the safe walls around me, and the distance from the Boston underworld that's so real in these pages.

Winter's definitely my season for tackling dark crime fiction, and I charged ahead with PARIAH, ready for the blackest plot and grimmest outcomes. But -- holy cow! -- there's a Moebius twist to this book that happens near the halfway point, and turns it inside out, into a wildly humorous adventure. In person, the author chuckles and calls the book "subversive" and it sure turns things upside down. Fair warning: What happened to OJ after his killings became known? What happened to Michael Jackson when people started naming what he might have done to the kids? Oh gosh, let's not be sexist: What's up with Martha these days?

That's enough hinting. Grab the book and clear your calendar. Don't let other obligations get in the way until you race into the consequences of Kyle's nasty plans. If you make it through the gruesome results, to the final surge of Kyle's discovery of how crime might pay in spite of it all, you'll need to cruise the rest of this crazy, funny, amazing book at high speed. What Donald Westlake started with his caper novels, Zeltserman has dragged kicking and screaming -- and laughing -- into the 21st century. Boston is never going to look the same again.

Come to think of it, neither is summer!

[PS -- for another look at kudos for PARIAH, check out this list from the Washington Post. No kidding, this is a book to bookmark.]

[PS again -- If you're not a fan of "noir" crime fiction, check in here tomorrow. I read all sorts ...]

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