BOOK REVIEW – Driven by James Sallis

By Marty Mulrooney

Driven James Sallis

Driven is an American crime novel written by James Sallis. It is the sequel to his 2005 novel Drive, which was recently made into a critically acclaimed major motion picture starring Ryan Gosling. Shifting location from L.A. to Phoenix, the story picks up seven years after Driver finished his revenge spree against those who double-crossed him. Now calling himself Paul West and running a successful business, he is suddenly drawn back into the life of violence he thought he had left behind when his fiancée is brutally murdered on a hot Saturday morning.

It was all over in minutes. He understood then what had delayed the second man’s attack. Elsa lay against the wall of an abandoned cafe, blood pumping from the wound beneath her breast.
She had been trying to smile up at him as the light went out of her eyes.

Driver was 26 during the events of Drive and in Driven he is 32. When originally introduced to readers in 2005, he was already critically hardened beyond his years. Seven years later, everything has changed, although nothing has really changed at all. The premise is always the same – Driver is a man you don’t want to mess with, but bad people seemingly never learn.

James Sallis has been hailed as ‘an unsung genius of crime writing’ but surely that is set to change. The author has candidly admitted several times that this follow-up novel only exists because of the film adaptation – itself a very different take on his story of revenge best served ice cold – but thankfully not one word of Driven reads like a cash-in.

There was, of course, a huge parking lot filled with cars just outside, any one of which could be his. And he wouldn’t hesitate, if it became necessary.
But for now it wasn’t.

This is a shorter novel than the first, a novella if you will, that packs just as great a knuckled-dustered punch. Sequels often retread old ground and this one certainly does just that. Yet Sallis revisits the character and his dour outlook on the world in new and unexpected ways. He isn’t interested in Driver growing as a character – he is who he is and everything that took place since we last spent time in his company has been a lie. When it comes down to it, Driver is good at two things: driving and violence.

In Driven, the violence finds him. He doesn’t go looking for trouble, although he welcomes it with open arms when it arrives. Everyone seems out to get him and why becomes increasingly blurry. Sallis could have easily churned out a story centred around the most obvious reason – the death of Bernie Rose, the only killing Driver ever mourned, was always going to have long-lasting and far-reaching repercussions. The events of Drive tightly interweave with Driven as it unfolds, but the main link between the two is unexpected, underplayed and quite frankly masterful.

When he opened his eyes, a face hovered upside down above his.
“You don’t want to be moving,” the face said.
And when he did, the hammer struck him full force in the belly.

Driven is another delicious slice of neo-noir crime served razor-sharp by James Sallis, this time baked under the glimmering heat of the Phoenix sun. Driver remains as fascinating a character as ever – it takes many pages before we can piece together even a trace of sadness at the passing of his murdered fiancée. At one point, he recalls how she explained to him why he’s so fascinated with malls. It’s homework, she says – he’s learning how to fake it. He’s so detached from what makes us human that he has to observe, emulate and hope for the best.

We already know from the end of Drive that Driver will eventually die at 3 a.m. on a clear, cool morning in a Tijuana bar. Before then, there will be other killings, other bodies. Driven covers some of that – it isn’t quite as tight narratively as Drive was before it, but it still offers a frightening glimpse into the life of a man who is doomed to revisit the same old story time and time again. If Sallis chooses to share some of these retreads in future novels, drip-feeding his readers tiny facets of Driver’s personality and life, then I doubt there will be many complaints. In fact, I will be first in line. With a hammer in my hand, just in case.

8 OUT OF 10

BOOK REVIEW – Drive by James Sallis


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