The American crime writer James Sallis – whose novel Drive was turned into the 2011 Hollywood film with Ryan Gosling – faced a welcome complication when he set about writing the just-released sequel, Driven.
“It was difficult not to visualise Ryan Gosling playing the role when I wrote the sequel,” admits Sallis. “I think he really made the character his own. Of course, they made changes in the script – but it has the blood, heart and guts of the book – it feels like my film.”
Drive, which Sallis wrote in a month “whilst recuperating from an operation”, is about Driver – a stunt man and getaway driver in LA – who takes revenge on those who have double-crossed him.
Sallis now resurrects the character beginning the sequel seven years after Drive ends. “He is trying to suppress the violence – but the sequel shows the process of him accepting that this is who he is. He tries to become a normal person and re-invents himself. After his fiancée is killed, the violence is unleashed again.”
Sallis never intended to be a crime writer until he read Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler at the age of 22. “Then, when I read Chester Himes, who mixes black humour with graphic violence in the Harlem Detective novels, I was hooked,” he says. “I sat down and wrote The Long-Legged Fly about an alcoholic detective in New Orleans, who specialises in missing persons cases – which is ironic as he can’t find himself in my series of six novels about him.”
What attracted Sallis to the crime writing genre was that it gave him an “in-built structure”. “It gives you the freedom to do what you want, build characters and write about social issues, within a framework.”
Along with the sequel, Sallis is also releasing a limited-edition vinyl with recordings of his band Three-Legged Dog and a signed box set of all 12 of his backlist titles.
His musical trio – which includes wife-and-husband team Ant Bee and Odie Piker – is a mix of “old-time mountain music, early swing, gospel and jazz and blues”. Sallis, who plays guitar, mandolin, banjo, Hawaiian guitar Dobro and fiddle, pens love songs including, “I Could Be Wrong” and “One of Us Is Gone”.
He also reads two of his short stories on the record including “Blue Devils”, “a standard revenge story” and “I Saw Robert Johnson”, about a man who wakes up to find blood but doesn’t know what has happened.
Now, Driven is in the movie pipeline – “they love the book”, he says. It may have helped Gosling that Sallis sees his character Driver as “a blank slate”. “He is someone who doesn’t really have much personality. You never really know him or his motives, however much backstory I give. In the film, Ryan Gosling’s long looks with no expression on his face sums this state up perfectly.”