By Kevin P. Sullivan
Updated August 03, 2011 at 04:00 AM EDT

There are few writers who can describe a razor blade slicing through a man’s neck with as much poetic brevity as James Sallis. Throughout his career — and especially in 2005’s Drive, which has just been made into a Ryan Gosling movie — he has drawn sparse and haunting portraits of the criminal underworld. His newest crime thriller, The Killer Is Dying, is no exception, but the three interconnected stories lack Drive‘s effortlessly sharp focus. Dying follows Christian, the assassin of the title; Jimmie, the lonely boy who dreams the killer’s memories; and Sayles, the cop on the hitman’s trail. Sallis fills his world with cold realism and populates it with dark characters, but loses sight of his complex narrative — and the reader in the process. B-