Crime Fiction Alphabet: Z is for Pariah by Dave Zeltserman

I’ve really enjoyed taking part in Kerrie’s Crime Fiction Alphabet – many thanks Kerrie! For the last letter I’ve chosen Pariah by Dave Zeltserman.

I toyed with the idea of writing about Carlos Ruiz Zafon, but it’s been a long time since I read The Shadow of the Wind, so my memory is a bit rusty about the details and I haven’t started his latest book The Angel’s Game.

I don’t think the only other book I have by a ‘Z’  author, Gem Squash Tokoloshe by Rachel Zadok, qualifies as crime fiction and I don’t have any books with titles beginning with Z. So it was off to the library to see what they had – not a lot! But Pariah by Dave Zeltserman was sitting on the shelf and I borrowed it although the quote on the front cover made me doubt whether any book could live up to such praise:

‘The perfect pitch of reality, history, crime, celebrity, plagiarism, and sheer astounding writing.’ Ken Bruen

Now I’ve read it, in my opinion it doesn’t. I’ve recently joined the Cozy Mystery Challenge and this book just doesn’t qualify for that category – it has everything a ‘cozy’ mystery doesn’t.

As I began it I thought I wasn’t going to like this at all – too much swearing, too much gratuitous violence, too much blood and gore, just too much ‘reality’ (but not reality as I know it). So I put the book down and began another one. But somehow I found myself thinking about Pariah and wondering how it would turn out and I just had to go back and finish it.

It’s a study in evil. The narrator is Kyle Nevin, a killer without a conscience, just released from an eight-year prison sentence, determined to get revenge on Red Mahoney, South Boston’s head mobster, who had set him up with the FBI. But he needs money to track down Red and carry out his plan. He stops at nothing to get what he wants, killing, maiming, robbery, drugs, drink, sex, etc, etc – until it all goes wrong that is.

All though I wanted things to go wrong for him the irony is that it’s through writing a novel that it finally happens. He’s approached by a publisher to fictionalise his crimes:

I want this to be a tough, hard-hitting crime novel, something where there are no winners, only losers, and with the authenticity that you are more than capable of providing. (page 222)

I really enjoyed this part of the book. Dropped in between some of the chapters are Kyle’s notes to the editor, so I knew all along that this was a book he was writing, but it is onlyin the last few chapters that this comes to the fore. Part of the pleasure for me was the contrast between creative fiction writing – there is a character who has an MFA in creative writing who Kyle pays to write the book for him, until the publisher rejects his submission, telling him that it’s unacceptable because it ‘screamed MFA’ (Master of Fine Arts). He wanted writing with ‘raw energy’.

And I loved it when it came to the ‘celebrity’ interiews, the plagiarism charge and the reaction of book reviewers and book bloggers.

The papers had a field day with me, but the bloggers were the worst. Jesus they were unmerciful. During those four days I couldn’t sleep and spent my time reading all that shit written about me on those blogs. (page 267)

This is a tough tale, a dark thriller, written with confidence and fluency. Kyle is an anti-hero, a real pariah and I disliked him intensely. I may not have liked the characters, the language or the content of this story but it certainly has great impact and has lingered in my mind for days.

4 thoughts on “Crime Fiction Alphabet: Z is for Pariah by Dave Zeltserman

  1. Margaret – Thanks for sharing this. Zeltserman is a new author for me, and I always like learning about what’s out there. I’ve read books like that, too, where I found myself reflecting on the book and remembering it, even though I didn’t like the characters, etc.. I think “impact” is certainly the right word to describe that effect. I’m not the biggest fan of gratuitous violence, etc., either, so I wouldn’t put this one high on my TBR list, but it does sound like it might have an impact.


  2. Margaret and Margot, I read Pariah for this meme and disliked both Kyle, a brutal bully, and the book intensely. The use of a child’s medical condition to make the big job go wrong was one clever ruse too much for me. Even humour has limits. You could say Dave Zeltserman did his job too well in my case, I got his message but did not like the way he went about delivering it.


  3. Margaret, I’d like to thank you for giving Pariah a second chance and writing a fair review for it. About the scene Norman had a problem with, it’s a difficult scene–it was a difficult scene to write, and I’m sure it was at least an equally difficult scene to read. But I would like to mention, it was written as minimally as I could, and it was certainly not written for laughs, but to be horrific. And even with the satirical elements and some black humor occasionally leaking in, none of the book was written to be humorous, instead it was written to part crime novel, part study of evil, and a satire on the publishing industry and our celebrity-crazed culture which will take the most despicable person and build him into a celebrity if there are enough dollars involved. And again, I’d like to thank you for keeping an open mind while reading Pariah, and rest assured, nothing else I’ve written is as dark and brutal as Pariah–in fact I’ve even written some cozy stories for Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine (my Julius Katz stories), which my editor calls “charming”.

    Best Regards,
    Dave Zeltserman


  4. Very good, and sympathetic, review. And well done to the author for responding in an engaging, rather than egotistical, way. I have some of DZ’s books on my shelf but as I am not a fan of very dark noir, I am not so sure whether to read them. Having read this post and Norman’s, I am still unsure.
    I think it interesting (and a reflection on me!) that I think of this genre as a “boy” genre, but in fact here Margaret is keener and Norman is less keen. I’m instinctively with Norman, though, without having read the books.


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