On a trip to New York Kyle Nevin gets in a bad mood. Just so, after eight years of incarceration, he recently goes free again alone through Central Park at night in the hopes of getting mugged by someone. More “would be better” as the first person narrator of Pariah says. Yes, this habitual criminal from South Boston solves not only money problems but also emotional crises by force.
In “Pariah” a huge rage ferments. Kyle wants to revenge himself upon Red Mahoney, his former boss, who betrayed him to the FBI and then disappeared. The author Dave Zeltserman first gives Kyle a tunnel vision, an energy, an unfrayed speech that reminds us of the classics of hardboiled literature. But he refrains from using Kyle’s hardness as a massive shell for a good core, as we are used to in some hardboiled heroes. The egomaniac Kyle, among whose fondest youthful memories consist of beatings of innocent passersby pokes evil fun at himself over this stereotype.
The only rule of courtesy: shut up
Zeltserman is so refined as to very gradually pull the carpet out from under us readers’ feet. Kyle complains initially about the moral decay in South Boston, over the loss of backbone and decency inflicted by Mahoney. Based on these tirades the reader might liken the narrator to a Tarzan of the slums and thus begin to like him as someone who within his brutal world still possesses some values and like all of us suffers from the shrinkage of values. But as to honor among thieves Kyle only understands shutting up when it comes to the dealing with the police.
He is in the worst way egotistical and bullying his raw charm only a means to an end, and whatever love for his brother he evinces only lasts as long as his acts as Kyle wishes. “Pariah” is a monstrous book of self-righteousness in which Kyle propounds the grossest atrocities as the only possible means of behaving.
Blood sells itself finely
But Zeltserman does not dismantle him easily, in a beautiful sleight [or twist (of plot)] he lets the blood tainted fall into the clutches of the publishing business which best knows how to market the creepiness of such types.
When the miserable underworld of South Boston and the lacquered publishing world of New York meet, then Zeltserman doesn’t only ridicule the media and cultural norms. He often puts in question exactly that which he himself bravely peddles, namely the conversion of criminality and horror into thrillers. Whoever reads “Pariah” cannot simply browse away in fascination but must answer his own questions as to why he actually does.