Hart Hanson,
The Driver
(Dutton, 2017)

With the cancellation of Bones, which he created and executive produced, Hart Hanson turned his attention to the novel he always wanted to write. The Driver is the result and it's a big, sprawling, quirky, thrill-ride of a book, one that -- if you start it in the evening -- will keep you up way later than you intended.

The driver in question is Michael Skellig, a former special forces sergeant who now runs a limo company in Los Angeles, where he employs a crew of colorful walking-wounded veterans. Skellig is hired to chauffeur skateboard-rapper mogul Bismark Avila, who has a magical ability to bring trouble and danger down onto himself. After Skellig saves Avila's life in a shootout in an upscale hotel, Avila repays him by virtually blackmailing him into becoming his full-time driver and bodyguard, a replacement for the bodyguard who got killed in the shootout.

Avila, a street rat, may have become an Olympic medalist and a businessman who owns his own company, but he never really left the streets, and working for him leads Skellig into deep danger. Before he knows it, he is a person of interest in a couple of murders and a criminal conspiracy, and he must extricate himself from a number of dangerous situations while keeping the police at bay -- a task that is complicated by the fact that Deborah Groopman, the detective investigating him is (a) a person he has always had a crush on and (b) the best friend of his lawyer, Connie, with whom Skellig is crazy in love.

Throw in a murderous crew consisting of the most diverse, colorful and deadly villains you can imagine and you've got a solid recipe for a fine thriller.

Hart brings a few values to the table that are not all that common. One is a bizarre sense of humor; even while he is suspenseful and capable of building scenes that create a sense of terror, Hanson brings a level of humor to the book that is rarely found outside of the better work of Carl Hiaasen. I laughed out loud several times. His banter between characters reminded me of the best of Bones and several of Skellig's first-person character shorthand descriptions are hilarious. Hanson also knows how to bring conflicts and complications into the plot. The search for his McGuffin -- barrels of freshly laundered cash -- is the element that unifies the plot.

In The Driver, Hanson delights in breaking the rules. Skellig's narration varies from present tense to past tense, sometimes in the same paragraph and he is guided by voices of the spirits of people he has killed in the past, a device that is taken for granted and then cleverly undercut near the end of the book. He also breaks the fourth wall by speaking directly to the reader, announcing on several occasions that while one thing is happening, he will tell us about something else. The surprising thing is that violations of the standard patterns of fiction writing work; they drive the action and narrow the distance between reader and writer.

In all, The Driver works. It's a solid, compulsively readable, clever and funny novel that makes few demands while bringing a lot of satisfaction.

book review by
Michael Scott Cain

9 September 2017

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