Monday, August 5, 2013

Too Late to Call Texas by Trent Zelazny
Reviewed by Anthony Servante

Book summary
If only he hadn't found the hat. Or the dead guy. Or the steamer trunk. Or the rag doll. If only he hadn't found any of these things, everything might have been okay. But he had found them. All of them.

Now Carson Halliday is on the run, trying his damnedest to keep one step ahead of a dangerous gang of outlaws and mad men. A run leading him from town to town in the dry wasteland of the southern New Mexico desert, over dark hills and dangerous plains, through shantytowns and city streets, and, most frightening of all, into the mysterious depths of the human heart.

Trent Zelazny

Author Biography
Trent Zelazny is the Nightmare Award-winning author of To Sleep Gently, Destination Unknown, Fractal Despondency, Shadowboxer, The Day the Leash Gave Way and Other Stories, A Crack in Melancholy Time, Butterfly Potion, and his latest, Too Late to Call Texas. He is also an international playwright, as well as the editor of the anthologies Mirages: Tales From Authors of the Macabre, and Dames, Booze, Guns & Gumshoes.

He was born in Santa Fe, New Mexico, has lived in California, Oregon, Arizona, and Florida. He currently resides back in Santa Fe.

Existentialism. How’s that for a big word?! Wiki defines it as “a sense of disorientation and confusion in the face of an apparently meaningless or absurd world.” Crime Noir, in the hands of Trent Zelazny, is purely existential. Big questions are asked and, sadly, answered, even if the answer is no answer at all. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start at the beginning.

It all begins with a hat by the road with indications that its wearer was shot in the head. For no particular reason, our hero Carson Halliday follows the trail of the hat to dangerous encounters and strange locations. Let's take a look at his name. Halliday inplies "Holiday" or holy day, but this is a misperception, as the name means "[that he can] feel and sense much that one does not fully understand, and can be deeply influenced through the thoughts of others without realizing just how he is being affected." Also, the name implies that "You attract success and money, but will either be very wealthy or very poor because your good judgment fails at times." Thus, Carson can be construed as a malleable man with poor judgment. True so far. 

With this tragic flaw, Carson undertakes a journey based on poor decisions and though he may not be aware of it (as the reader often suspects) his decisions are tainted by others whom he encounters along the way. The only meaning for him at this point of his journey is to reach an old friend in Texas where he might unload the drugs he found with the money at the end of the trail of the hat. What little there was of his world begins to unravel. Everyone he meets on this journey adds a piece to the puzzle of his existential path, ultimately leading to the answer to life itself.

Carson encounters Dana, our requisite femme fetale, when he has barely survived an attack by unknown assailants. She summarizes this journey he is on with a line of questioning that Carson is pulled into more by curiosity than philosophy. She asks him if he believes in God and Fate. Just as his curiosity about the hat put him on his journey, Dana questions whether or not she is on a similar journey, which is a “fated” life leading to a pre-determined death. Carson answers her that whether or not there is a God, our journey is inevitable, and that Fate is greater than God. Little does he realize that he has just sealed his own fate with these words.

Which brings us to Albert Camus. Death by suicide is an existential belief expounded by Camus; that is, if life is meaningless, death too is meaningless. Zelazny has fated Carson with a journey that is drenched in meaninglessness but which seems to have a point (thus the ironic title of the book). As readers we, too, are drenched in death as we follow Carson’s exploits (and those of his wife Brittany). This is a spider-web of predetermined demises and gunplay. The journey leads to a meeting with the spider, even as Carson helps the spider build the web: Suicide by life, per se.

This is cold-hearted Crime Noir. The words on the book’s cover “Not everything happens for a reason” are not to be ignored. This is existential territory in the hands of a master web-builder, Trent Zelazny. For those of you expecting a traditional tale of Noir, prepare to be bitch-slapped by the ending. There’s no avoiding it. We are all doomed to the Fate awaiting both character and reader. Carson picked up the hat; we picked up the novel. At his best, Trent Zelazny is Albert Camus meets Raymond Chandler. And Too Late to Call Texas is Trent at his finest. 

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