Even Stevens’s CBR-III review #36: Drive by James Sallis

Driver lives in Los Angeles and works as a stunt driver on movies. He also occasionally moonlights as a getaway driver. He doesn’t want to be in on the plan or know too many details, he just wants to drive. That’s all he does. Of course, getting involved in heists is never that simple and the book opens with Driver dealing with the aftermath of a job gone wrong. A double-cross happens, bodies pile up, and Driver is left with a bag full of money and the certainty that the people the money belongs to will be looking for him.

There isn’t much more to this book plot-wise. The chapters about Driver trying to clean up the heist-gone-wrong are interspersed with Driver’s musing and recollections of events of his past, detailing the circumstances that led him to be where he is now. Driver is very matter-of-fact and Sallis’s prose has the same tone. He is very sparse and straight-forwarded; no words are wasted, and the story is tightly constructed. The whole book has a very gritty, neo-noir feel as we see the often harsh reality of life in “glamorous” LA.

I really enjoyed this book, and upon a little further reflection, it works on a couple of levels. The crime and the events resulting from it are very suspenseful and well-crafted, making this a page-turner. There are also some unexpected incidents of quick, brutal violence that highlights the real danger of the situation that Driver has gotten into. Underneath that, though, Sallis throws in a few other issues for the reader to consider. Driver has lived a pretty unforgiving life, witnessing some nasty stuff at a young age and learns to survive, adapt. He makes few connections with other people, and the ones he does are tenuous. The issue of whether or not people can truly change or whether our actions are merely adapting to our situations pops up several times. There are a few other things that are highlighted (but never distract from the story) that I thought added another layer to the book.

This book is short in length (less than 200 pages) and moves along quickly. Once I picked it up I found it hard to put down. I recommend this to fans of crime, thriller, and neo-noir stories.

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