Email this review


 A world-weary spy who's been out of the business for nine years is dragged back into the circus to catch a former colleague gone rogue. At least that's the summary that'll end up on the dust jacket. But it doesn't give you any idea of the flip, absurdist tone--part Thomas Berger, part Richard Brautigan--that subverts the conventions of the spy novel even more profoundly than Sallis's earlier novels (Black Hornet, 1994, etc.) deconstructed the detective story. When former spy David (not his real name), dragged back into the game by his old boss Johnsson, now blind, bids farewell to his second life as a sculptor by telling his Irish-Mexican girlfriend Gabrielle that ``Everything you know about me, everything you think you know, is false'' and asking her to move far away from him, her unquestioning cooperation gives the tale a dreamlike unreality from the start. As the plot thickens, Sallis spins out all the obligatory scenes--the tense reunion with the agency types, the ritual stalkings, the bouts of Gabrielle-free sex, the long-anticipated kidnapping, the climactic showdown with the obsolete killer Luc Planchat--but in prose whose telegraphic flights of noblesse oblige (``Finally I did manage to drop him without getting hurt myself or, more important, without having to kill or seriously maim my opponent, but it wasn't easy'') are guaranteed to keep readers from losing any sleep over the story. The characters David meets in his cross-country odyssey are properly memorable--from his old agency friend Blaise, now mute, to Jeanne, the Piltdown guitarist who fears that sex has reactivated her cancer--but at the same time they come across as wayward squiggles whose interactions with David are so elusive that you'd be hard-pressed to take a quiz on the plot five minutes after turning the last page. The reward for patient readers is a finely poetic quality to every understated scene--despite a cargo of allusions to Voznesensky, Cendrars, Pavese, Cavafy, MacLeish, Apollinaire, and Homer.

Pub Date: July 11th, 1997
ISBN: 0-312-15513-1
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 1997


FictionWILLNOT by James Sallis
by James Sallis
FictionOTHERS OF MY KIND by James Sallis
by James Sallis
MysteryDRIVEN by James Sallis
by James Sallis