The Killer is Dying by James Sallis

In The Killer is Dying (Walker and Company, 240 pp., $24) James Sallis, a master novelist of suspense and mystery, has given us a novel in which the Vietnam War is integral, but that connection has not been mentioned in the many reviews that I have read.

The killer of the title is a professional assasin who is a Vietnam veteran apparently dying of Agent Orange-connected cancer. There are many realistic hospital scenes familiar to me from my time in oncology wards in VA hospitals.

There are also fine scenes of our killer (nicknamed “Christian” during his tour of duty) in Vietnam.  “Sometimes he is there again, with the field burning around him, trees at the perimeter igniting one by one, flaring up like birthday candles. Sometimes he hears the pop-pop-pop of rifles in the distance set against the whoosh of trees igniting, sometimes it all takes place in silence.”

This taut and tense novel is a game of cat and mouse between the detectives trying to find Christian before he kills again and Christian, the killer. I have found no evidence that Sallis (left) is a military veteran of any kind, but he has done his homework. If you have read no books by this great American writer, this is a great starting point.

—David Willson