Galveston vs. The Serialist: Smackdown

The Edgar Awards ceremony is Thursday night… and I have neglected to blog about my rankings for the Best First Novel!  Panic is setting in.  The good news is that I have read them all.  The bad news is that I read them for enjoyment, not for reviewing or ranking.  So, revisiting is necessary.  While under a time crunch.

Here’s the first two under scrutiny:  Galveston by Nic Pizzolatto and The Serialist by David Gordon.

Galveston is a character-driven crime story, criss-crossing through time and featuring a bleak, dark outlook.  Protagonist Roy Cady gets the bad news that he’s dying of cancer on the same day that he begins to suspect that his underworld boss is planning to have him killed.   A violently action-filled scene later, Roy’s on the run with a teenage hooker.  Their tenuous relationship, Roy’s desire to give the girl, Rocky, and her young daughter a future, and how he fails Rocky but ultimately redeems himself to give little Tiffany a shot at a decent life is a strong backbone for the story.  The characterization of the Roy and Rocky and even the secondary characters that populate the book is also assured, with the people well-drawn, three-dimensional, and affectingly human.   Knowing that Roy is meant to die within months, if not weeks, the jump to present day – 20 years after the initial story begins – is a shock at first, but serves to ratchet up the suspense.  Where’s Rocky?  Where’s Tiffany?  And why is today’s Roy so different from the Roy in the past?   These are all the pros for Galveston.  Cons?  Some will find this book too dark and violent.  Not me.

The Serialist, on the other hand, has a light and comic touch.  Protagonist Harry Bloch is an author, skipping across multiple genres thanks to various pen names, and in one memorable scene he actually dresses up as his mother (in the guise of Sibylline Lorindo-Gold he writes a pulpy erotic vampire series).  The possibility of a comfortable paycheck leads Bloch to agree to ghostwrite a pornographic memoir for serial killer Darian Clay… but when the women he interviews for the book turn up dead, Harry’s in for much more than he bargained for.  But who is doing the killing?  Is it possible that Darian is innocent after all?  Unlikely.  I foresaw the twist at the end, but only very close to the end, so full credit to the author.  Pros:  the book is engaging, funny, with interesting characters.  Some people, I am sure, adore the “excerpts” from Harry’s novels – and it is, indeed, an opportunity for Gordon to show off a bit while poking fun at the conventions of various literary genres.  I didn’t like this quite so much.

Comparison:  The Serialist, while successful and engaging, doesn’t offer the same emotional engagement or character development as Galveston.  Therefore, the Literary Lunchbox Edgar rankings for Best First Novel (2011) stand thusly:

  1. Galveston by Nic Pizzolatto
  2. The Serialist by David Gordon

Needless to say, more to come tomorrow –  must have all reviewed and ranked before the Edgars are announced Thursday night in order to get full credit – if only in my own mind – if I call it right!

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