Sunday, March 19, 2017

Review: DRIVEN

DRIVEN by James Sallis (Poisoned Pen Press, 2012)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

DRIVEN is the sequel to DRIVE, now also an award-winning film. As we exit the initial novel, Driver has killed Bernie Rose, “the only one he ever mourned,” ending his campaign against those who double-crossed him. DRIVEN tells how that young man, done with killing, later will become the one who goes down “at 3 am on a clear, cool morning in a Tijuana bar.” 

Seven years have passed. Driver has left the old life, become Paul West, and founded a successful business back in Phoenix. Walking down the street one day, he and his fiancee are attacked by two men and, while Driver dispatches both, his fiancee is killed. Sinking back into anonymity, aided by his friend Felix, an ex-gangbanger and Desert Storm vet, Driver retreats, but finds that his past stalks him and will not stop. He has to turn and face it.

I haven't yet read DRIVE, or watched the award-winning Hollywood film of the same name that was adapted from James Sallis's acclaimed noir novel, so I approached this sequel without any preconceptions about whether or not the story of 'Driver' should be continued. But reading DRIVEN definitely cemented my appreciation and admiration of Sallis's talent, which I first experienced last year with SALT RIVER. This is a similarly short book, packed with powerful prose and a keen eye for the nooks and crannies of human nature. Sallis is a poet as well as a novelist, and that comes through in his noir tales, with plenty of layers and meaning distilled into his terse storytelling.

Paul West, as 'Driver' is now known, has left behind his old life of Hollywood B-Grade movie stunts and robbery getaway driving. He's found some form of happiness - a fiancee, honest work, hopes for the future - but that is all suddenly torn away when thugs come for him, killing his fiancee.

What does he do now? Just because he's dispatched the thugs and his sweetheart is dead, doesn't mean the threat is over. Someone seems very determined to hurt him. Or more than one someone.

This is a riveting book. A page-turner that draws you in and straps you to your seat with its exquisite and evocative prose, even if the plotting style can be rather loose at times. This is neo-noir with capital Ns. It won't be for everyone: it's stylistic, characters drift in and out, many things are left unresolved. But I was transfixed from page one. Sallis brings Driver's world vividly to life, as he regresses back to old ways, if with greater experience and a different perspective now, as he tries to avoid getting killed, and work out just who is trying to punch his ticket, so many years later.

Sallis's storytelling is gritty and violent. Mercy is sparse. DRIVEN is a short but powerful tale, one that I tore through like, well, a getaway driver fleeing the scene of a crime. Excellent.

Craig Sisterson is a lapsed lawyer who writes features for leading magazines and newspapers in several countries. He has interviewed more than 180 crime writers, discussed crime writing onstage at arts and literary festivals in Europe and Australasia, on national radio, has been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards, and is the Judging Convenor of the Ngaio Marsh Awards. You can follow him on Twitter: @craigsisterson

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