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Monday, July 7, 2014

Death Will Have Your Eyes by James Sallis

Mulholland Books, $15 (c1997, re-release date 7/29/14)

Some of the best-written crime fiction is contained in James Sallis’s Lew Griffin series. Sadly, that series is out of print, but we have the consolation that he continues to write new works.  It is also gratifying that Death Will Have Your Eyes, one of his older works, is being re-issued by Mulholland Books.

Death Will Have Your Eyes is purportedly about a retired spy re-entering his long-deserted field. “Dave” has been re-activated as an assassin, on the trail of a fellow assassin, someone he obviously has known quite well. Sallis doesn’t give a lot of detail; his readers must be grown-ups and search between the lines.

What I think Sallis really has created is a story of Dave’s odyssey to reclaim his humanity, to reclaim his right to sit and enjoy a glass of wine with his beloved, Gabrielle, to not have to bear the burden of what he did as an assassin for many years. On the other hand, it is an act of kindness he did as an agent that has, in his words, “spiraled” to bring him to the point of life or death.

While Dave tracks an assassin, others track him. And try to kill him. Only they don’t. Most step aside, as if acknowledging the greater task that lies ahead of Dave. They are layers Dave must shed before confronting the final choice.

Whether Dave is successful or not in becoming human again, he has learned that old agents never die, they live on in myth. And their song is sung by Sallis.

On the moment Dave gave it up: “But then one day in Salvador as I stood watching a red Fiat burn, I realized that it was over for me — as though I’d stepped through an unseen door, looked up and found the world transformed in ways I could not fathom, or had blundered over borders into a foreign country where familiar words meant inexplicable things.”

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