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Posted: March 27, 2022

James Sallis remains a master of the noir genre

Book Review

By Derryll White

Sallis, James (2011).  The Killer Is Dying.

“You were dead, you were sleeping the big sleep, you were not bothered by things like that, oil and water were the same as wind and air to you. You just slept the big sleep, not caring about the nastiness of how you died or where you fell. Me, I was part of the nastiness now. Far more a part of it than Rusty Regan was.”  – Raymond Chandler

James Sallis brings the poetry of the dark night to light, offers it to the reader in a cascading series of dark events.  There are three large losers here – that is not to say the contemporary slang “loser” with friends making ‘L’ signs on their foreheads.  No, these men all cope with dark loss, the kind many of us have experienced.

The cop copes with the loss of his wife as he chases an unidentified killer. The killer comes to recognition of the fact he is dying. A young boy is abandoned by his parents and creates a life for himself, by himself.

James Sallis is the absolute master of the noir novel. He lets the reader wander through these lives, wandering what will happen to his/her own life in the end.  Is there meaning to our existence?  What?  Is life simply a complicated set of streets and hallways we wander down?  In all this articulate darkness, there is light.

Sallis takes the reader down trails, memories, dreams that might be better left alone.  This is a strong book by a man growing as a major writer, but it may not be for you, so beware.  I am delighted that I read it.

“Hard to imagine what anyone’s life is like from the outside.”


Excerpts from the novel:

SELF-RELIANCE – Change was the law.  One went on with whatever life one had.  When he thought about it at all, Jimmie realized the legacy his parents unwittingly had given him.  Finding his way among the cracks of his mother’s oddness and his father’s resignation, he had quite early caught on that it was up to him to map the borders and furnish the rooms of a life he could live inside.

COLLECTING – Four thousand dolls.  Never mind why, where did one get four thousand dolls?

Not a lot of specialty shops like his, the young-sounding man in Mesa had said, but a few.  He could close the shop down tomorrow, in fact, and thrive on mail order.  There was a sizeable network of collectors g=forever buying and selling.  Trading, too – quite a lot of that.  Newsletters.  Local and national conventions and such, loads of informal get-togethers.   Web-sites, many of them with forums.

PEOPLE – Every human interaction, even the most unremarkable, is an economic exchange, he thinks: each side wants something.  And it still amazes him how much anger is in people.  You see it always in their eyes, in the pitch of voices kept low, in the way they pass through doors or down hallways.  So many of them are like jars, forever filling.

– Derryll White once wrote books but now chooses to read and write about them.  When not reading he writes history for the web at

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