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Starred Review. I drive. That's what I do. All I do." So declares the enigmatic Driver in this masterfully convoluted neo-noir, which ranges from the dive bars and flyblown motels of Los Angeles to seedy strip malls dotting the Arizona desert. A stunt driver for movies, Driver finds more excitement as a wheelman during robberies, but when a heist goes sour, a contract is put on his head and his survival skills burn up the pavement. Author of the popular six-novel series set in New Orleans featuring detective Lew Griffin (The Long-Legged Fly, etc.) and such stand-alone crime novels as Cypress Grove, Sallis won't disappoint fans who enjoy his usual quirky literary stylings. Reading a crime paperback, Driver covers "a few more lines till he fetched up on the word desuetude. What the hell kind of word was that?" Lines such as "Time went by, which is what time does, what it is" provide the perfect existential touch. In this short novel, expanded from his story in Dennis McMillan's monumental anthology Measures of Poison, Sallis gives us his most tightly written mystery to date, worthy of comparison to the compact, exciting oeuvre of French noir giant Jean-Patrick Manchette.
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*Starred Review* Sallis has a bloodhound's nose for noir. Whether in the celebrated Lew Griffin novels or in his several stand-alones, his characters are always trapped--trapped by their inability to effect change in a malign world, trapped by their own character flaws, trapped by the wrong girl, trapped by walking into the wrong place at the wrong time. Sometimes they know they're trapped, and sometimes they are the last ones to know, but Sallis always knows; he can smell it in their pores, and he makes us smell it, too. So it is with Driver, the antihero of this quintessential noir novella about a loner with a passion for driving fast cars. He's a Hollywood stunt driver by day and a getaway car driver by night, but he has no interest in either movies or crime: he just wants to drive. Life won't let him, of course, and eventually he figures that out, as he sits in a Motel 6 near Phoenix, "watching the pool of blood lap toward him." Sallis shows us how he got there in one crisply written, spot-on scene after another. At one point, near the end of the book, Driver reflects that we neither choose our lives nor have them thrust at us. Instead, "they're forever seeping up under our feet." You won't find a better definition of the noir worldview than that, and you won't find a more textbook example of how to express that view in fiction than in this hypnotic little story about driving circles around your life. Bill Ott
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