A book like City of Hate might not have normally caught my eye, but author Timothy Miller offered to send me a copy. I’m glad I jumped on the offer. City of Hate is “city noir” that imports much of what I love about country noir. The setting and the backdrop are inspired, even if the execution wasn’t perfectly to my liking.
I lived in Houston during my swing through Texas. One of Houston’s nicknames is the “Big Heart,” earned by the open arms its residents met Hurricane Katrina victims. You could still see “I ♥ Houston” bumper stickers around New Orleans when I was traveling there on a regular basis for work. Dallas has a nickname of its own that highlights the inevitability of comparisons between the cities and their relative merits: City of Hate. The moniker is inextricably tied to JFK’s Dallas assassination. Which might seem a little unfair. Lee Harvey Oswald only lived in Dallas for a year. And, whatever conspiracy you might embrace, the bulk of the city certainly didn’t participate in the assassination. But the stage was already set for the moniker to stick, not by the dull statistic that Nixon won Dallas by a bigger margin than any other city (as remarkable as the existence of such a stat is today) but by a made-for-TV moment where vicious, pearled Dallas society women frothed (read: spit) at Lyndon and Ladybird John in front of a national audience.
If this was a story about vicious, pearled Dallas society women it wouldn’t interest me. Thankfully, Miller has written a book that, like any good noir, is about a decidedly lower class cast of characters. Almost everyone in the book is a recovering alcoholic working a crappy job. The main character, Hal, is a bank teller. Which suggests the 90s rather than current day setting. Another character claims to be Lee Harvey Oswald’s bastard and is not yet old (that framed picture of Oswald sure must be awkward when his probation officer drops by).
Society types are not entirely absent. The plot kicks off with Hal discovering his buddy Bob’s suicide. Only maybe it wasn’t suicide and Hal finds some incriminating photos along with the corpse. There is a conspiracy at foot—the question is which conspiracy—and its tentacles reach all the way up into Dallas’ most powerful circles.
Don’t go into this expecting any clean answers, any unraveling of a complicated conspiracy that gets tied back up with a tidy bow. City of Hate is very much in the hardboiled tradition. The plot is complex, probably overly so, and little gets resolved. Forget it, Hal. It’s the City of Hate. The baroque plot is compounded by very subjective POVs. Just because something is printed right there on the page doesn’t mean that it happened. The technique gives the entire book a surreal quality.
You might find the above a feature or a bug. I can’t say it entirely worked for me. I like a little more closure. A little more grit, a little less gristle.
3.5 of 5 Stars.