Driven

Written by James Sallis — This is the sequel to Drive and follows hot on the heels of the movie adaptation of that 2005 book, which was directed by Nicolas Winding Refn and starred Ryan Gosling. Both a tribute to 80s heist movies such as LA Takedown and an ultra-cool urban Western, it was my favourite film of 2011.

Drive’s dedication is to Ed McBain, Donald Westlake, and Larry Block, and Sallis has said he was influenced by the Gold Medal paperbacks he read in his youth. However, a word of warning. James Sallis is simply incapable of, or not interested in, writing an orthodox thriller. If you’ve read his Lew Griffin private eye novels or The Killer Is Dying you’ll know that he is not a writer interested in following any kind of commercially proven formula.

Driven begins seven years after the events of Drive, with the anonymous Driver having left behind his old life as a getaway driver. He calls himself Paul West and has established a legitimate and successful classic car business, and a new life with his fiancee Elsa in Phoenix. This existence is shattered after the couple are attacked out of the blue. Elsa is shot dead but Driver survives after killing his assailants. With no understanding of who is after him, or why, he’s forced to go into hiding. With the support of his friend Felix, a Desert Storm verteran, he begins to fight back.

Pursued from safe house to safe house by unknown assailants, Driver must piece together what clues to their identity he can find whilst fighting for his life. The action moves from the street to shopping malls to, inevitably, the road. The identity of his attackers, and their reason for seeking revenge is kept a tantalising secret until the very end.

One of the things I enjoy most about Sallis is that he treats the reader as intelligent. Interspersed throughout the narrative are flashbacks, scenes where without warning we move to a different time or place. Sallis makes no attempt to explain this, and simply trusts the reader to follow. Our effort is amply rewarded for there is far more in this short, 150-page book than you might expect. The prose is terse but frequently poetic, and Sallis seems to be concerned throughout with how disconnected we have become, whether that be the teenager with music blasting from his iPod, or the rest of us too pre-occupied with our own selfish thoughts.

The sudden, visceral violence of the first book returns. Indeed, throat-stamping remains a particular favourite for Driver. So do his rather chaste relationships with women, this time with fellow mechanic Billie. The book seems ambiguous throughout, and ends in similar fashion with Driver seemingly trying to prolong his battles, and a third novel is hinted at.

McBain, Westlake, and Block are great American writers and lots of their books are available to read. There are fewer choices available from James Sallis, but don’t miss out on this one. It’s available from 3 April in the UK.

Poisoned Pen Press
Print
£6.50

CFL Rating: 4 Stars

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