Review by Pete Bradt
If Chinatown were a novel by Bukowsi or Palahniuk, you might end up with City of Hate.
Hal Scott is a poetic everyman with secrets, who stumbles upon the suspicious murder-or-suicide of his friend Bob, while living in the deep shadows of the Kennedy assassination, in a jungle of substance abuse recovery, in a swamp of infidelity and blackmail.
If it sounds like we’re getting ahead of ourselves, we are: Author Timothy S. Miller drops the reader and protagonist into a multi-layered criminal underworld from the very first line of his moody and philosophical noirscape, which reads like a gothic love letter to the city of Dallas.
With Hal, we tour a micro-world of conspiracies and memories, fist fights and condo-couch intimacies, bland bank teller jobs and glitzy gubernatorial campaigns. We don’t learn things as much as we play volunteer-therapist to Hal, an observer seasoned with love, humor, sorrow, and the ability to beat the crap out of douchey finance dudes–as demonstrated when a guy demeans (one of) Hal’s love interests, his colleague, Maggie, a married mother.Life isn’t simple in City of Hate. Photographs and videotapes that could end peoples’ lives float around like dollar bills. Dead friends leave behind lovers who find solace in Hal. Plainclothes detectives play bad cop and bad cop and chase Hal to the ends of the earth. And more than that, we have Lemon, Hal’s inexplicable buddy, who might just well be the bastard son of Lee Harvey Oswald.
I surely failed to pick up on all the JFK-related imagery and nuance that Miller’s novel likely orchestrates into a fan fiction joy ride. But I was time and time again moved by the lyricism of Miller’s protagonist, whose thoughts flow like the smartest and most hard-nosed of the hard-boiled brethren forced to walk this genre’s plank.
Timothy S. Miller himself has worked many a different industry, and Miller’s soulfulness and writing talent may far outweigh the rewards of this story. Lemon’s identity affords us a walk down memory lane through Jack Ruby’s strip clubs, turning the gladly-forgotten side-characters of that era into faces in your living room photographs who stare at you and speak to you and ask you to consider what they wore, what they drank, and who they loved.
The book comes off more as a meditation on life, a transposing of the author’s life into something more exciting, more marketable: a world where people with guns kick doors in, a world where attractive ladies vie for male attention, a world where conspiracies come true, and come to you. But at the end of the day, it’s not the twists and turns that make the book worthwhile, but the insights, style, and wit of its writer.
City of Hate will be available from Goliad Media on June 1, 2020