A review of The Killer Is Dying by James Sallis

Reviewed by P.P.O. Kane

The Killer Is Dying
By James Sallis
No Exit Press, 2012
ISBN: 9781842437407

Without wishing it to sound anything like routine: another extraordinary novel from James Sallis.

This one, like many of his others, is hard to pin down exactly.  Paranormal, science-fiction and metaphysical elements vie within a crime story a la Savage Night, about a hitman on his last job.  Perhaps that catch-all label ‘slipstream’ will have to cover it.

The hitman is called Christian and what happens here is that some guy gets to his target before he can press the ‘Execute’ button.  Christian, unsure what’s going on, is driven to contact the cops investigating the hit.  Whoever hired him has put him in the frame.  His professional pride is hurt.

Naturally,  the cops attend other cases and Christian recalls other hits, allowing Sallis to use the topography of the crime novel to edge in allusion and digression, layer the main narrative with diverse meaning.  As is his wont.

Puzzling events pepper a vivid narrative that has real momentum and a melancholy undertow.  An alien visitation, a boy, Jimmie, who can pick up on people’s dreams.  Still, in our world the actual has been outstripping the possible for quite a while now and strangest of all is the phenomenon of the internet, its benign/malign potential, and (a reiterated theme here) the weird way in which animals have adapted to the human-built environment.  What is this (latter) topic doing in a crime novel?  It is a question that Sallis has been asked quite a few times before, and I may have asked him a similar question myself.  At any rate, I think It’s a fair bet that he has seen and enjoyed Werner Herzog’s version of Bad Lieutenant.

An immensely rewarding read.

About the reviewer: P.P.O. Kane lives and works in Manchester, England. He welcomes responses to his reviews and you can reach him at ludic@europe.com