Sallis’ latest prose-poem entangles a hit man’s last days with a Phoenix cop’s search for him and an abandoned boy who’s tormented by the killer’s dreams.
Minutes before the veteran killer who calls himself Christian plans to execute his latest target, someone else takes his shot—someone a lot less effective than he is. Now accountant John Rankin is hospitalized but very much alive, and homicide detective Dale Sayles, who naturally knows nothing of Christian’s existence, is left to wonder why anyone would take a shot at him. By the time Sayles, whose beloved wife Josie is dying, and his partner Graves, a newbie who’s so full of attitude that he spends a night in jail after running off his mouth to an impatient judge, get a line on the shooter, they’ve stumbled onto the trail of the killer they call Dollman because of the way he identifies himself to prospective clients and others: “I sell dolls.” Meanwhile, across town, Jimmie Kostof, an enterprising teen who really has been selling dolls and other toys through his own mail-order business ever since his parents left him on his own, is troubled by violent third-person dreams he finds scary but meaningless. His dreams are just one more example of how “the world speaks to us in so many languages…and we understand so few.”
Sallis (Salt River, 2007, etc.) takes his time weaving together the lives of these lost souls, each apparently as aimless as the bugs and birds they can’t help noticing. The payoff is a moment of well-nigh miraculous consolation.