I first heard author James Sallis talk about his new novel, The Killer is Dying, on KJZZ last week — (you may know Sallis as the musician in the band, Three Legged Dog, or the creative writing prof at Phoenix College) — I was intrigued, not because he had come out with another crime novel, but because he set his latest tome in Phoenix.
In The Killer is Dying, our fair city not only serves as the “place,” but it also plays a role in the book… About Phoenix, the “implied” character, he says this: “the fact that we have this huge, vast, unknowable city, which is sort of a triumph of stubbornness and engineering, set in the middle of an absolute wasteland, is fascinating.”
And here’s what he said in a recent interview with the Los Angeles Times about his choice of location:
(Nevermind, the Times’ own descriptor of our city in the introduction)…
James Sallis lives in a place that really shouldn’t exist. The city sits in the middle of “an incredibly forbidding desert,” where on this day the temperature will reach 112 degrees. Like Los Angeles, decades ago it became too big for its local water supply. It’s a place of migrants, and of rootlessness. It feels as permanent as a trailer park.
Which makes Phoenix the perfect setting for Sallis’ dark new novel, “The Killer Is Dying,” (Walker: 233 pp., $23) a sparse, noir tale of a sick and slowly dying hit man, the homicide cop trying to run him to ground and a resourceful teenager carving out an improbable life after both parents abandon him.
“There’s something very intriguing about this place,” says Sallis, an Arkansas native who lived in New York, Boston, London and a handful of other places before settling here in 1995. “The book is really about people who are cut off, either for personal reasons or familial reasons, or social reasons, whatever, they’re cut off from society. This artificial town in this desert, without bringing it up to the surface of the story, really seemed to work for it.”
Congrats Mr. Sallis on your latest accomplishment… we hope you continue to write, jam out and share your love of the written word with the students at Phoenix College.
For more on Sallis, his book, his band or upcoming book signings, check out his website.