Monday, May 21, 2012

Book Review: Driven by James Sallis

Crime novelist James Sallis is back with a tight, taut sequel to his adrenaline-charged novel, "Drive", a 2011 cult movie favorite.

"Driven" (Poisoned Pen Press, Hardback $19.95, Paperback $11.95) again showcases his tough anti-hero known simply as Driver.

He's no longer an expert stunt driver or getaway driver; instead he's got a good business going in Arizona. He fixes up classic cars and rents them to Hollywood studios. He's now using a new name, Paul West, trying to forget his criminal past.

It all goes sour on the first page, when two assailants attack Driver and his fiancee on a Saturday morning. Driver kills them both, but his fiancee dies as well.

When others start to follow him, Driver realizes there's good reason for his paranoia. He goes underground with the help of his buddy Felix, a hard-boiled Desert Storm veteran.

The body count rises as more thugs pursue Driver; soon the tables are turned: he becomes the aggressor trying to find out who's after him - and why.

Driver is certainly not your average good guy/hero; his controlled violence is barely harnessed as he moves quickly and with deadly force.

Sallis smoothly uses flashbacks to reveal character strengths and flaws, offering brief insights into their past and present situations.

Don't be fooled by the short length of this dark sequel - it packs a powerful punch. In only 147 pages, the author's sharply chiseled prose works exceptionally well. Other authors are guilty of telling lesser stories in a considerably longer format, but with Sallis, you're in very good hands.

He's the author of the dark, highly acclaimed Lew Griffin series, but has also written poetry, essays and collections of short stories. Sallis has published three books on musicology as well as the definitive biography of Chester Himes.

While it's best to first read "Drive" (Mariner, $12.95), to get a better understanding of the characters and their motivations, it's not essential.

Moviegoers, who may have caught the award-winning film version of the first book, starring Ryan Gosling, are likely to grab this to see if Stallis still has his masterful noir touch. He does - "Driven" is a delicious treat for those seeking dark, superb escapism.

Ray Walsh, owner of East Lansing's Curious Book Shop, 
has reviewed Crime novels and dark thrillers regularly since 1987.

This review was originally published by the Lansing State Journal on Sunday, May 21, 2012.

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