Off the Shelf: The Killer is Dying

The Killer Is DyingThe Killer Is Dying by James Sallis

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

3.5 instead of 4. I’ve been playing a lot of Hotline Miami lately, so I figured I’d revisit James Sallis, given that the film adaptation of Drive was such a big influence on the game. After a few rocky chapters, I found myself happily immersed in Sallis’s bleak but evocative vision of contemporary Phoenix, Arizona.

The novel mostly follows three male characters whose lives briefly intersect. There’s ‘Christian,’ a killer-for-hire who is trying to complete one last hit before dying of a vague illness; Sayles, a detective with a dying wife, who comes across Christian’s trail while trying to solve a murder & Jimmie, an adolescent struggling to fend for himself while unknowingly experiencing Christian’s life while he dreams. Other characters come in & out of the story, emphasizing the lonliness of the main three & reminding them of the tenuous relationships around them.

I would consider Dying a spiritual sequel to Drive, partially because Driven disappointed me & I’m looking for satisfaction. The two have many similar themes–solitary men who say little but whose acts have great influence, material and emotional poverty, beautiful illusions easily shattered, the fellowship of a meal, hardship as a fact of life. However, the memories that Christian leaves Jimmie with is more elegiac & meaningful than Driver’s desperate scramble to make sure that Irina’s son has a better life than he did.

As I said before, the opening chapters were a little rough. Sallis sticks in a lot of dependent clauses in a sentence to get everything in & this style choice doesn’t always track well. But once I got used to it, I settled in for a gritty noir & got a starkly beautiful story about death & unlikely ties instead.

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