DRIVEN by James Sallis
I read James Sallis’s first Driver novel before it had even been optioned for a movie, or made into one starring Ryan Gosling that became an eye-catching movie that captured moviegoers everywhere. I’d hoped that Sallis would follow up with a sequel and was glad when he did.
Driven is another slam-bang feast of action and violence scored to a heavy metal riff featuring a full-bore V8 bassline. Sallis wastes no time at all in getting us into the action, and Driver’s life is on the line from the first page. Killers leave Driver’s wife dead on the first page. Anyone who’s read the first novel knows that retribution is coming.
I wasn’t surprised to see how quickly Driver put aside his feelings for his dead wife. He’s a born survivor. He would have saved her if that had been possible, but it wasn’t. And he doesn’t start tracking down the men that killed his wife out of revenge – it’s to stay alive. Whoever sent them isn’t going to rest until Driver is in the ground as well. Still, for those not familiar with Driver’s harsh view of life and death, this could be jarring, but, man, Sallis ultimately makes the most of this.
One of Sallis’s most interesting creations in the Driver books is Felix, the ex-military warrior that lives in the shadows and has his fingers in a lot of pies. I love the mystery of Felix and don’t want to see it stripped away, but at the same time, I want to know more about him.
I also enjoy the relationship Driver has with his screenwriter friend, the guy he goes to in order to untangle logic knots because the guy lives inside his own head by twisting reality and reducing things down to a single plot beat. There’s a lot of psychology and philosophy in the book, primarily coming from Felix and the screenwriter, but Driver is the guy steering through the murky streets staying one step ahead of the killers.
I loved the female mechanic and wished there could have been more going on between them, but Sallis doesn’t allow for much downtime in the book. Or maybe he could write a book about her, because she has a lot of layers that we barely see in this novel.
But that’s one of the joys of Sallis’s writing: his characters are all deep and well worth revisiting. I hope we’ll see more of Driver in the near future. His story can’t be over.