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Book Review: Drive by James Sallis

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Drive features a hard-bitten protagonist who moves through life and the story as quickly as a torqued-out V-8 engine. He’s a driver, a guy behind the wheel when a robbery goes down. If you go in to take down a bank, he’s the guy who’s going to get you out of Dodge. As long as you make it to the car.

At 160 pages, readers power through this short novel rapidly, but you have to look out for the hairpin turns of plot and the way the author plays with time. James Sallis is unfolding the forward momentum of the robbery gone bad while at the same time raising the curtains of the past to unveil where Driver came from.

Driver was a child of a broken home, and watched his mother kill his father. After that, he was put into foster care and learned to rely only on himself. When he was old enough, he stole the family car and made his way out to L.A., where he ended up doing stunt work for movies. Gradually that line of work overlapped a career driving getaway vehicles.

James Sallis has written six novels in the Lew Griffen New Orleans private eye series, and has a new series currently going about a troubled ex-homicide cop named Turner. Drive is an homage to the tough guy writers of the past.

The book reminded me a lot of the Gold Medal crime novels I grew up on, and of the books currently being published at Hardcase Crime Publishing. They’re taut actioners with a glimpse of heart and soul that don’t stand in the way of rapid-fire pacing.

It also reminds me of the Richard Stark novels Donald Westlake was putting out about a thief named Parker. Duane Swierczynski's The Wheelman struck similar chords recently.

Drive is a short, punchy read that’s not going to change your life or present some existential view of morality that's going to cause you to question your place in the universe, but it will make time pass almighty quickly. It quickly sucks you in at the starting line and whips you right along in its slipstream like a bullet as it roars along. This is what diversionary entertainment is all about!

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About Mel Odom

  • Sounds good to me. I’ll have to add it to my list. (which is so long I should take vacation time just to read) Great review Mel, really enjoyed it.

  • Enjoyable review. There’s a lot to be said for purely escapist books that don’t present an “existential view of morality that’s going to cause you to question your place in the universe.”