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The Killer Is Dying: A Novel Hardcover – August 2, 2011

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

James Sallis is the acclaimed author of more than two dozen volumes of fiction, poetry, translation, essays, and criticism, including the Lew Griffin series, Drive (optioned to Hollywood, movie underway), Cypress Grove, Cripple Creek, and Salt River. His biography of the great crime writer Chester Himes is an acknowledged classic. Sallis lives in Phoenix, Arizona, with his wife, Karyn, and an enormous white cat.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Walker & Company; First Edition edition (August 2, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 080277945X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802779458
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 0.9 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,545,796 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

3.5 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
A "mystery" which is also a breathtaking and complete literary experience, this powerful novel "out-noirs" almost every "noir" novel I have ever read with its sad and desperate characters trying to cope with the miseries fate has dealt them. As they live their daily lives in various parts of Phoenix, none of Sallis's three main characters expect that things will change--they just soldier on, doing whatever it takes. The first character, Christian, is a Vietnam vet, a former medic who has been a contract killer for many years. Hired to kill a "nondescript office-dweller at a nondescript accounting firm in a featureless city [Phoenix] where everything is dun-colored," he has just discovered, at the outset of the book, that some other assassin has made the hit--and botched it. His goal is to identify the other hitman and complete the job for which he has been hired, but time is short: Christian is dying.

The second character, Jimmie Kostof, is a thirteen-year-old who has fallen through the cracks. His mentally ill mother disappeared more than a year ago, and his father, shortly afterward. Incredibly resilient, he has been staying alive in his house without being discovered by the authorities. His nights are especially difficult, however: he has somehow tapped into the nightmares of Christian, the killer. The third character, police investigator Dale Sayles, is also alone. His wife Josie, who is dying a lingering death, has disappeared, leaving a note explaining that "I'm not a survivor, Dale. I've known that all along."

The reader comes to know these characters through a series of impressionistic, descriptive episodes in which the individual characters are not initially identified.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Gary Griffiths VINE VOICE on August 21, 2011
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
James Sallis may be the most talented writer of American fiction you've never read - a highly skilled craftsman of achingly beautiful prose - dark, insightful, and unapologetically refusing to succumb to commercial pressure.

"The Killer is Dying" is a truly unique crime mystery in a genre so overcrowded that many try so hard too to distance the style, characters, or plot from the crowd, and inevitably fail. But Sallis weaves together the lives of an unusual trio - Christian, the contract killer on his last job, Sayles, a burned out detective watching his wife waste away to cancer, and Jimmie, a young teenager abandoned by his parents - resulting in the unlikely but successful bond of a mystery and coming of age story. As the terminally ill Christian tracks his last victim, he has senses that he is the one being stalked, while the resourceful young Jimmie. Survives by buying-and-reselling on line, inexplicably sharing dreams with the killer he's never met. Ultimately, this is a tale of death and dying, yet the author manages to leave the reader with a vague and nagging sense of redemption and hope - but only to the extent that some would describe McCarthy's "The Road" as strangely uplifting. Sallis' choice of Phoenix as the setting is fitting; the city's cold and sterile grit - despite the dry heat - provides the perfect match for the underlying despair.

"The Killer is Dying" is a novel to be savored, slowly digested, taking care to relish the details, nuance, and messages that run and cross and intermingle never too far below the storyline. Smart, complex, and poignant - a bold and brilliant effort from a writer deserving of far more recognition. Read this, then circle back to Sallis' outstanding "Turner" trilogy starting with "Cypress Grove."
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Gloria Feit VINE VOICE on December 26, 2011
Format: Hardcover
The first thing one perceives on reading the first pages of James Sallis' new novel is the literal accuracy of the title: The man who calls himself Christian is a contract killer, a Vietnam vet now terminally ill, on his last job. A few pages later, something goes awry as the man he has been watching, who he has been hired to kill, is suddenly shot - - by someone else. And Christian is not sure how he feels about that.

The second character to whom the reader is introduced is Jimmie, a precocious youngster who has unexpectedly had to develop some strong survival skills when he is abandoned by his parents. Suddenly, and bizarrely, Jimmie begins having vivid dreams. The startling thing about this, other than the oddity of his dreaming at all when he was previously unaware of having ever done so in the past, is that the dreams are apparently Christian's. And that's just the beginning. A dying killer, a philosophizing teenager, a cop whose wife is gravely ill; disparate lives which only tangentially intersect, with the p.o.v. switching among them, which was briefly disorienting to this reader, but all to fascinating effect.

There are small master strokes with pitch-perfect thumbnail sketches, several scenes analogizing the actions of birds to those of humans. This is a book peopled by characters who are dead or dying and those they leave behind. But it is not maudlin, rather, thought-provoking. It is also full of existential musings: "The world speaks to us in so many languages . . . and we understand so few . . . He was thinking how kids back in school, kids these days too he was sure, always talked about being bored, and how he could never understand that.
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