Galveston is a dark and often violent noir story narrated by forty-something Roy “Big Country” Cady. Roy is the hired muscle for a New Orleans crime boss. Roy does his share of inflicting pain and death on others and observes in an almost academic way that those marked for death always have a “no…wait” look on their face before the end. It’s an end that Roy doesn’t pity since he feels that each of them made choices that brought death to their door.
On the same day that he learns that he has terminal lung cancer, Roy is assigned what turns out to be his final job. Something about it doesn’t feel right and he finds out soon enough that his boss has double crossed him and now it’s Roy who has the “no…wait” look on his face. Roy escapes, along with the only other survivor at the scene, an 18 year-old prostitute name Raquel, or Rocky. As they flee towards Texas, Roy wonders at the irony of his survival and ponders whether a quick death by bullet would have been better than a slow one from cancer. He confides in Rocky about his prognosis and she offers to take care of him once his health declines if he will offer her protection in the meantime. So, the two form a dysfunctional family of sorts that becomes three when they stop off in a small Texas town to pick up Rocky’s three year old sister, Tiffany.
They head to Galveston, a place full of happier memories for Roy, where they hole up in a miserable dive of a motel with its own cast of losers. The action slows down and the story becomes more of a character study about the ways in which people engineer their own misery. Roy and Rocky strike up a tentative friendship but are trapped by their own self-destructive qualities. The two eventually share snippets of their past and the reader understands that these two people have had the deck stacked against them from the get-go.
Roy struggles with whether he should stay with Rocky and Tiffany or abandon them and strike out on his own. As he relives moments from his past while deep in the bottle, he figures it’s too late for him to make something good for himself, but thinks that Rocky could have a chance and he ponders how he can help her escape a bleak future. The more he comes to care for Rocky and Tiffany, the more he considers leaving them as if caring for them is more of a burden than he can bear.
The author does a masterful job of seamlessly combining lean and almost poetic prose with Roy’s character in a way that comes across with the perfect blend of hardness and softness, philosophy and poetry, and optimism and defeat. This is no easy task, especially considering that Roy is a thug. He also manages to render a beautiful picture of an array of lives that are lost to despair, loneliness, and hopelessness so that the reader stands on the edge of the pit without being dragged in. This is a very good read.