James Sallis’s THE KILLER IS DYING

Winner of the 2012 Hammett Prize and the 2013 Grand Prix De Litterature Policiere

A hired killer on his final job, a burned-out detective whose wife is dying slowly and in agony, a young boy abandoned by his parents and living alone by  his wits.  Three people, solitary and sundered from society.  Yet in the course of the novel, all will find community.  In what is at one and the same time a coming-of-age novel, a realistic crime novel and a novel of the contemporary Southwest, THE KILLER IS DYING is above all the story of three men of vastly different age and background, of the shape their lives take against the unforgiving sunlight and sprawl of America’s fifth largest city.

Crime Time review:
Barry Forshaw
If you’ve been nurturing a particular writer at your bosom for years, secure (and happy) in the knowledge that he or she is known only to the cognoscenti, it’s somewhat difficult to share your favourite when the whole world sits up and take note. That process is very likely to happen for one of the very best writers in the crime fiction genre, James Sallis, as the film of his lean and sinewy masterpiece Drive opens (with Ryan Gosling as the protagonist). And if the first book that the new legion of Sallis fans picks up is The Killer is Dying, there will quickly become aware of why they the writer is held in such high esteem.

The central character here is a hitman, committed to his final assignment; we also introduced to a past-his-best detective with a mortally ill wife, and an abandoned boy living a nigh-feral existence on the streets. Around these three economically (but trenchantly) characterised protagonists, Sallis weaves his customary pared-down narrative, one that this time fruitfully combines several different strands of genre. Personally I’d be happy if James Sallis remained caviar to the general, but one cannot blame the writer and his publisher for wanting to achieve the kind of success that is presented to many a less talented writer. The Killer is Dying might be just the book to pull off that particular trick.

THE KILLER IS DYING has received a rave review from Die Zeit and is in second place on the renowned German monthly list “KrimiZEIT,” which lists ten crime novels chosen by 17 literary critics writing for some of the most distinguished German newspapers and TV/radio stations.

Starred Publishers Weekly Review:

The Killer Is Dying
James Sallis.
Walker, $23 (240p) ISBN 978-0-8027-7945-8

In this hallucinatory, almost visionary novel of suspense set in Phoenix, Sallis (Drive) focuses on three people of vastly different backgrounds and situations–Christian, a gun for hire, who’s suffering from a mortal ailment; Jimmie, a boy of about 13 who’s been abandoned by his parents and whose dreams inexplicably tap into the contract killer’s consciousness; and Sayles, a cynical, lonely, burned-out detective, whose wife is dying in hospice. When
another assassin steps up and takes out Christian’s quarry, Christian goes after the guy who beat him to it. Unknown to Christian, Sayles is also on the killer’s trail. Meanwhile, Jimmie survives in his parents’ house by selling stuff on eBay, waiting for the authorities to notice he’s all alone. Through no-nonsense staccato chapters, with minimal action, Sallis does a superb job exploring the workings of his characters’ thoughts and motives. The September release of the film adaptation of Drive, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May, should help propel sales.

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