The Driver by Hart Hanson


the-driver-by-hart-hansonI’m single for all the usual reasons plus a couple of ancillary snags and detriments, for example: an eye-catching scar on my forearm left by an obstinate pit bull whose windpipe I was forced to (honest to God!) wrench out in panicked self-defense—please, no grief about the humane treatment of animals. Killing a dog is not a meet-cute anecdote on a first date (especially if the woman in question is an animal lover), and yet due to the prominence of the dimpled scars on my arm it has never not come up, unless I wear long sleeves, in which case, this being Los Angeles, the woman in question assumes I’m a junkie. I could go for Gila monster attack as an explanation, but then I’m lying on a first date, which, as any relationship expert will tell you, does not bode well for the future of the relationship.

– Page 5, Hart Hanson’s The Driver

How much you like The Driver depends in large part on how much you like being inside the head of its hero, Iraq War vet turned LA limousine driver Michael Skellig.

You might find this sort of hipster hyper-verbalism funny and appealingly glib, a nice coating of character oil to smoothly move the gears of this thriller’s busy plot. Me? It wore me out after a while, and I started to develop a picture in my head of a young, drunk Steve Buscemi type nattering at me for hours from the neighboring barstool.

But perhaps I’m not being fair, for Skellig is no bug-eyed twitchy twerp, but a badass Special Forces combat vet now slumming it as the owner of a low-rent limo company even though his mother is a prominent state assemblyman. (As his lust interest, an LA police detective, puts it: “Oh, Skellig, aren’t you just the sweetest vanilla cupcake with shit frosting?”)

And Skellig can be funny when he’s being pithy. Or at least his mother can, as witnessed in this flashback exchange:

“You’re seventeen so it’s understandable you like Ayn Rand. Adolescent boys respond to her simplistic ranting because Ayn Rand herself was basically an angry adolescent boy who had all the answers but felt like nobody listened to her.”

“You’re a Republican. How can you not like Ayn Rand?”

“She’s bullshit you grow out of, like costume parties or thinking farts are hilarious. I mean, go ahead and like her now, Mikey, but have the grace to look back in a few years and be embarrassed.”

After saving the life of gangsta-rapper mogul Bismarck Avila from a professional hit at a high-profile event, Skellig gets drawn into the deeper undercurrents of the threat against his gregarious but ego-riddled client. As per the thriller formula, the threat is plural, and the threateners are not just criminals but cops, and the more Skellig doesn’t know who to trust, the more he’s forced to go it alone to keep himself, Avila and his motley crew of damaged war-vet employees out of jail—or worse.

Hanson is a TV writer whose credits stretch back nearly thirty years, and whose most prominent credit is as the creator of the FOX series Bones, based on the popular forensic-detective series of novels by Kathy Reichs. The Driver is his debut novel, released at age fifty-nine, and it shows off his strengths as a screenwriter: solid scene construction, slick pacing, snappy dialogue, and distinctively colorful characters. (In a nice bit of trope inversion, the woman Skellig is in love with not only resists him, but really doesn’t want him. She’s not playing hard to get.)

And Hanson has a nice light touch with action, though some of the get-out-of-an-impossible-jam situations stretch the bounds of suspended disbelief, as even Skellig seems to cheerfully concede: “When one is obliged to dispose of a murdered body, one faces a Gordian knot wrapped around Pandora’s box, which contains Occam’s razor.”

But, speaking of tropes, they’re in abundance. The quirky, sexy, semi-damaged, semi-antisocial military vet/knight-errant type is so prolific in thriller fiction today that maybe their creators should just pool their royalties, as they all seem to ride, and maybe even read, each other’s drafts. But they are popular, and they’re popular for a reason that exists beyond the bounds of fair criticism, and so I won’t criticize too heavily just because they’re not my cup of hardboiled coffee.

But, that Steve Buscemi voice….

I will say this: There were times when I was tempted to bail on The Driver. But I hung in there each time, and after a while I realized it was no longer an effort to do so, and to me that represents a laudable level of authorial skill that some bigger names in the thriller business don’t have. Hart Hanson knows how to tell a high-spirited story, and he knows to kick into a higher gear when he most needs to, and that’s what matters most.

Eagle Harbor Books: Buy

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