Drive by James Sallis – Until recently, Sallis seemed to be one of those writers who was destined to be known within dedicated crime reader and writer circles and nowhere else. Incredibly well read and knowledgeable about crime fiction, highly intelligent and a fine writer. But that situation changed when Nicholas Winding Refn directed his highly stylised and ultra-cool film adaptation of Sallis’ Drive starring man-of-the-moment Ryan Gosling. It helped that it was an excellent film, but the job was made easy by the fact that they had a balls-to-the-wall classic to adapt in the first place.
The premise is simple: Driver (we never know his name) is a getaway driver who works freelance for the highest bidder (in addition to a sideline as a Hollywood stunt driver). He is very much a loner, but is forced out of his shell when his female next door neighbour makes friends with him. She is married with a child but the husband is in prison and she appears to like Driver. Their relationship is complicated when the husband is released from prison and forced by people to whom he owes money to perform a robbery. Driver helps out the husband because of his relationship with the wife and son, but when the job goes wrong he is suddenly forced to go on the run from low-level mobsters with an axe to grind. And slowly but surely he turns from the hunted into the hunter.
Describing the plot of Drive doesn’t really do justice to Sallis’ novel, because it’s simply a framework for a fantastic set of characters and a pared down style which simply demands that you read faster and faster. Also, crucially, it weaves Driver’s back-story into the proceedings, which the film doesn’t do. Despite being a short novel/novella, it packs a lot into its pages. It is a beautifully paced and written novel, and in Driver it has one of the most compelling anti-heroes to emerge in modern crime fiction.