“So right there, at the edge of a moonlit field in the wrong part of town, with a gun for comfort and a mystery unfolding before me, my involvement had ceased to be a choice.”
That line from Mark Pryor’s standalone, Hollow Man, convinced me he can write noir. He goes down a mean street that even his series hero, Hugo Marston, would take the long way round. Pryor’s most recent is one of the freshest and most chilling noirs since Megan Abbott’s Dare Me.
The book is narrated by Dominic, an English transplant in Austin, working as a prosecutor in Austin during the day, spending his nights as a singer-songwriter in the local clubs. He is also a sociopath. He tells us not to worry, he rarely acts on his impulses. We then see what happens when he does.
As with a lot of noir, it involves a slight and a woman. Someone accuses Dominic of stealing songs from another musician, blackballing him from the clubs. A desire for vengeance takes shape in his head as a mysterious woman walks into his life to help him rob the client of a fellow lawyer on the outskirts of the city. The robbery goes wrong, with murderous consequences, and Dominic must continue to tap into his darker impulses for him to survive.
Pryor uses Dominic’s voice to create mood and suspense. The character works on the reader much like he does on those around him. You get pulled in by his wit and charm. You are lead with bits of his history, hoping to fill in the gaps. You are both fully engaged while never feeling on solid footing with him. At times you feel like Dominic’s accomplice, at other times his victim.
The city of Austin is even used for suspense. Pryor reflects places both familiar and unfamiliar places as a territory. The robbery happens on the rougher edges of town, while its aftermath moves steadily into the “safer” areas, growing closer to Dominic’s workplace and home.
Hollow Man is one self assured novel. It avoids the heavy alliteration of many neo-noirs, having enough faith in its mood and story. Mark Pryor cleanly gives us a tale of dirty people. I hope he takes another trip over to the dark side.
Mark Pryor comes to BookPeople to speak and sign his latest, Hollow Man, on Wednesday, September 30, at 7 PM. You can find copies of Hollow Man on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.