Like Polar, True Cross features one of the main characters from the earlier Pearson novel, Blue Ridge. This time it’s Ray Tatum’s big-city cousin Paul, who also serves as narrator. Like his cousin Ray, Paul is generally a bit smarter and more sensible than the people around him, or at least he thinks he is, but unlike his cousin, he’s a bit of an asshole. He’s involved in an unfulfilling relationship with a woman he quite clearly loathes, and he abandons his dog on the big city streets because they fail to make an emotional connection. Paul’s greatest skill, both in life and as a narrator, lies in justifying the often selfish and hurtful things he does. Blue Ridge, the novel Paul first appeared in, is Pearson’s own version of a detective novel, but unlike in Polar, the earlier follow-up/sequel, Pearson doesn’t even make token gestures toward the mystery/crime/detective/whatever genre. True Cross is mostly about satirizing small town Southern folk (though like most good satire it never quite graduates to out and out cruelty) and doesn’t have a plot so much as a series of barely connected ramblings about the colourful locals.
The closest thing True Cross has to a centre is Paul’s obsession with “that Hooper”, which dovetails nicely with his neighbour Stoney’s obsession with a painting called “St. George and the Dragon”, by Vittore Carpaccio. Old George, it turns out, is the very spirit and image of Stoney. Paul manipulates Stoney’s obsession with Saint George in order to feed his own obession with that Hooper (“that Hooper” is an exceptionally attractive local woman, married to an exceptional jackass—one can’t help but be reminded of the Hot Chicks with Douchebags phenomenon), the end result being a far, far bigger twist than anything I though Pearson could have in him. Despite Pearson’s excellent prose and exceptional eye for detail, much of the book is repetitive and a touch dull. The shocking conclusion, however, is more than worth the price of admission.
Next is The Diamond Throne, by David Eddings.