three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
55-Nov-Dec-2011
By: 
James Sallis
user_rating: 
0

A-The Killer Is DyingJames Sallis is best known for his series featuring the character Lew Griffin, but he is also the author of several other novels as well as books of short stories, poetry, criticism, and musicology. Reviewed: Drive (4 of 5 Stars Selection Mar/Apr 2006).

The Story: The mortally ill killer of the title is a Vietnam vet and hit man named Christian, but his last wish isn't some sort of redemption. Instead, he's trying to figure out who killed his last target before he got the chance. The assassin is being pursued by Sayles, a detective who is already connected to Christian by the specter of impending death: he recently put his dying wife into hospice care. Then there is the abandoned adolescent Jimmie, who seems to be sharing Christian's dreams. The three characters' stories intertwine in this crime drama that is also a character study of people living on the edge of society.
Walker & Company. 240 pages. $24. ISBN: 9780802779458

Cleveland Plain Dealer 4 of 5 Stars
"I came away from this book feeling the same gratitude I've felt for other Sallis novels. No other writer renders the texture of solitude with more uncanny accuracy or brings more poetic intensity to the everyday." John Repp

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"Unlike those pretenders who play in dark alleys and think they're tough, James Sallis writes from an authentic noir sensibility, a state of mind that hovers between amoral indifference and profound existential despair. As alienated antiheroes go, they don't get any darker than the protagonist of The Killer Is Dying." Marilyn Stasio

Entertainment Weekly 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Throughout his career--and especially in 2005's Drive, which has just been made into a Ryan Gosling movie--he has drawn sparse and haunting portraits of the criminal underworld. His newest crime thriller, The Killer Is Dying, is no exception, but the three interconnected stories lack Drive's effortlessly sharp focus. ... Sallis fills his world with cold realism and populates it with dark characters, but loses sight of his complex narrative--and the reader in the process." Kevin Sullivan

Critical Summary

Reviewers praised The Killer is Dying for what they usually enjoy about James Sallis's novels--original, dark, lonely characters who seem like a natural fit for the world of crime the author describes. But they disagreed on the value of the plot structure Sallis chose for this book, expressing some dissatisfaction about the way the three characters' stories do or do not come together. For example, one otherwise positive reviewer noted that he never really understood what value Jimmie's dreams bring to the story. On the whole, though, all critics appreciated Sallis's style and were grateful to see new work from him.