(this is for the audiobook edition, which booklikes doesn't have at the moment, and I'm too lazy to try to add...)
Michael Skellig was a Special Forces Sergeant in the Army, who came out of the War on Terror with more than just scars and stories. He also came back with a burden to help Vets. So far, he's gathered a small group of them around him in his limo company. It's more than just a company, it's a family -- a place for them all to heal. These are the strangest, most tragic, yet funniest group of characters you're likely to meet this year. You'll be glad that Hanson introduced you to them as well as being a little angry that he does what he does to them.
Skellig is driving for a skating mogul/rap musician/all around lifestyle entrepreneur, Bismarck Avila, and he stumbles upon an attempt on Avila's life and thwarts it -- with no help at all from Avila's bodyguards. Avila blackmails Skellig into driving for him regularly (no, really) which gets Skellig involved in Avila's less-than-legal activities. All Skellig is trying to do is keep Avila alive -- and maybe find out why people are trying to kill him.
But Avila's criminal associates and rivals don't understand that, they think Skellig is an accomplice, assistant, or just generally in cahoots with Avila. So they come looking for a pound of flesh from Skellig and his little found family, hoping that'll result in them getting what Avila owes them. All it does is provoke Skellig.
Skellig isn't your typical thriller figure -- he's got a couple of PhD's -- one in mathematics, a sense of duty and loyalty, a knack for categorizing people using Hippocrates' four humors (hey, it beats Myers–Briggs Types -- at least for entertainment value), and an odd sense of humor. I don't know that Hanson's setting this up as a series, but if he is, Skellig is going to be one of my favorite series' leads soon.
Avila . . . I just don't know what to say about him. He's an interesting weasel of a character. There are times when you'd like Skellig to just walk away and let the police or some criminal or another take him out. Other times you feel sorry for the kid and hope someone protects him from himself and his dumb choices.
The plot moves quickly -- not so much that you don't get invested in characters, their hopes, dreams, phobias -- and steadily. There's a wit to the writing, as well as to the dialogue. Skellig's right-hand-man is his former interpreter, an Afghan man, is wise, funny and wily -- he's also Skellig's conscience pretty often. The two of them going back and forth is one of the highlights of the month for me. The writing is crisp, descriptive (sometimes you might feel overly so, as you read descriptions about the kinds of trauma visited upon bodies/body parts), and engaging. Really, for a debut, this is some outstanding work.
Ari Fliakos does a fantastic job -- accents, voices, emotions, humor -- he nails them all. Last year, I listened to his narration of Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, which was easily as good as this. But I didn't recognize his voice -- the only reason I know both books had the same reader is that's what the Internet tells me -- the performance he gives is so good. I've got to make a point of listening to more things with his name on them.
The Driver is perfect for fans of Shane Kuhn's John Lago books (The Intern's Handbook, Hostile Takeover) or Josh Bazell's Peter Brown (Beat the Reaper) books -- but a little less violent. Just as smart, just as witty, just as . . . not your typical thriller. This is probably the best thing that Hanson's ever brought into the world, I hope this is the first in a long line of novels from him.