Tuesday, February 8, 2011
Roger Smith's Foreword for Pulp Master's German Edition of Pariah
South African writer Roger Smith is the author of three of my favorite recent crime thrillers: Mixed Blood, Wake Up Dead and Dust Devils (yes, I was one of the lucky few who got to read Dust Devils in manuscript form, and it's spectacular!), as well as also quickly becoming one of Germany's favorite crime thriller writers. I was very happy when Roger generously agreed to write the foreword for the German edition of Pariah that Pulp Master will be publishing later this year.
Foreword to Pariah By Roger Smith
Before I read Pariah I had pretty much written off contemporary noir fiction. This is no exaggeration. The new dark stuff left me feeling the way I feel when I step into an elevator and hear an orchestral version of a rock classic: I want the original.
Most modern noir is either a period-piece pastiche – cardboard cut-out tough guys and their double-crossing babes travelling down mean streets cloned from the mid-twentieth century greats – or it’s a comic book frenzy of bodies and blood, death-porn for the Playstation generation.
So, a couple of years ago, when I first heard about Dave Zeltserman, heard him tagged as a contemporary James M. Cain via Jim Thompson, I was dubious. I’d been duped and disappointed by those kind of blurbs before. But when I read Pariah – and then went on to read everything else by this prolific author – I knew, for once, that the accolades were deserved. He was the real thing.
What impressed me most was that Dave Zeltserman was doing what those greats had done before him: he was holding up a dark mirror to American society. And Pariah is dark. Very dark.
Kyle Nevin is as vicious a bad guy as you will find in contemporary fiction, except in Pariah he's the hero. He bares his demonic soul in a chillingly casual – and often deadpan hilarious – first-person narrative that is reminiscent of Jim Thompson’s unreliable narrators. It is testimony to Dave Zeltserman's skill as a writer that not only do you get drawn in deep, but you can't stop yourself from rooting for this monster, even as the body count grows.
And just when you think you have a handle on this pitch black narrative, Zeltserman takes a hard left into the world of letters, when Nevin signs a contract with a New York publisher to pen an account of his most savage crime, barely disguised as a work of fiction. A scathingly satirical swipe at a society where no bad deed goes unrewarded by a book deal. (Pariah was written before the publication of O. J. Simpson’s “hypothetical” description of the murders of his ex-wife and her friend in “If I Did It”, making Zeltserman’s book all the more prescient.)
Pariah is everything that contemporary noir writing should be: tough, sparse, cynical, deeply pessimistic but shot through with dark humor. Brave writing that presents a world view in stark contrast to the Oprah-ready redemption tales that bog down the bestseller lists.
So, who is this guy, Zeltserman? This one-man sweatshop who bangs out a seemingly endless stream of hard-edged crime fiction? I’ve come to know Dave a little over the last two years or so. We’ve never met – he lives in Boston and I live in Cape Town – but we keep in touch via e-mail and stumble across one another in the Web’s dark, crime-ridden alleyways. What I have learned about him is that he is the most generous of men when it comes to supporting new writers whose work he admires – I’m lucky to be one of them – and utterly uncompromising and brutally honest when assessing the shortcomings of latterday crime fiction.
Dave Zeltserman has an encyclopaedic knowledge of noir fiction and is fascinated by its DNA. He reveres the pulp magazines and paperback-originals of the last century (like Gold Medal Books) that showcased and nurtured some of the huge names of crime writing: Jim Thompson, David Goodis, Charles Williams and Richard Prather. They encouraged a terse, pared-down style and honed their writers’ ability to gaze unblinkingly at all that is dark and depraved in the world. In an interview I did with him last year, Dave said – somewhat wistfully – that he would have been a Gold Medal writer if he hadn’t been born fifty years too late.
I’m going out on a limb here – and taking my life into my hands! – but I suspect Dave’s formidable self-discipline also has a lot to do with the years he has spent studying martial arts like Kung Fu, in which he has a black belt. Not only can he kick butt in a bar fight, he can roll up his sleeves and bash out a noir gem in a matter of weeks, like those pulp-masters of old. No rewrites for Dave Zeltserman: the first draft is the last draft.
So, rest easy in the knowledge that although Pariah comes out of a tradition dating back to the last century, it’s a startling modern book that lays bare very contemporary social ills. Relax and enjoy the dark and twisted journey that this book will take you on, you’re in the hands of a master.
Roger Smith is the author of Mixed Blood (Kap der Finsternis), Wake Up Dead (Blutiges Erwachen) and the forthcoming Dust Devils (Staubige Hölle).