Driver, the ex-con anti-hero of Eric Jerome Dickey's new novel, Drive Me Crazy, claims that women have been nothing but trouble for him. Usually when a character says something like this, one can be sure that he's been nothing but trouble for women. Yet the messes Driver gets into with the females who crash-land in his life qualify him as more sinned against than sinning.

The worst of Driver's headaches turns out to be Lisa, his ex-lover and now the wife of his boss, Wolf, who runs a limo service. Lisa once paid Driver to whack her adoring husband and Driver couldn't bring himself to do it. Wolf is a decent man, and Driver is "not a murderer." Lisa wants her money back. Driver doesn't have it he had to use it to bury his mother. Lisa's not happy, and in Dickey's version of L.A., which might pass as a circle in Dante's Inferno, she's one of those folks you want to keep happy at all costs. Out of this predicament springs much of the novel's nasty fun, which is a mix of noirish atmosphere everything seems to happen in the middle of a fetid night hardboiled dialogue, sexiness, horror and an undercurrent of sadness. Like any circle of hell, Dickey's Los Angeles is a stewpot of losers who have all lost something more important than cash, be it self-respect, love, health or the sort of optimism they'd come out west to find in the first place. Driver struggles, with varying degrees of success, to hold on to not only his physical existence but also his dignity and morality. Whether Driver keeps his hard-won humanity in the end is the reader's call. Yet Dickey does allow his put-upon protagonist a bit of hope at last, though the fact that it involves another sad and fallen woman might strike the reader as ominous. Deeper and richer than your average thriller, Drive Me Crazy is an excellent novel that takes readers along for a thoroughly satisfying ride.

Arlene McKanic reviews from Jamaica, New York.

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