Sunday, July 10, 2011

James Sallis

Drive Drive is stark, brutal, beautiful, and perfect. Language cut to the bone but retaining a beautiful flow.. Emotional, detailed descriptions of food, music and cars while the equally omnipresent violence and death is presented in a matter of fact dead pan. A narrative pitched between 40's noir, 70's cult flick, and a French existential novel.

James Sallis’s Lew Griffin books are enigmatic and move at their own peculiar logic. Sometimes poetic, sometimes willing to linger on an exquisite slice of life, at points terrifying and existential(lots of disappearances and eerie phone calls), and always filled with literary references(Queneau, Bernhard, Robbe-Grillet, Beckett, Chester Himes). Where Le Carre and Greene get accused of writing “spy novels” as opposed to thrillers these books could be accused of being “detective novels”, as they resemble a novel of the mind as opposed to Lehane’s (for example) mixing of literary technique and pulp. Comparisons to James Lee Burke and Walter Mosley are probably for superficial reasons ( respectively Louisiana setting and a black detective) and while Sallis clearly admires both writers there are huge differences. Mosley is using the detective form to write a social history of post-war Black America and Burke writes brooding mountains of baroque prose describing evil, the suffocating influence of the past and American violence, while Sallis is minimalist and focused on the autobiography of one man.

The Long-Legged Fly (Lew Griffin Mysteries)


Black Hornet (Lew Griffin Mysteries)

Eye of the Cricket (Lew Griffin Mysteries)

Ghost of a Flea (Lew Griffin Mysteries)
Death Will Have Your Eyes: A Novel about Spies Death will have your Eyes is a spy story, shadowy exploration of identity, and a road trip filled with perfect miniature descriptions of characters and places, sudden violence, eerie and surreal imagery, and melancholy. The plot is confusing and complex with shade like characters fading into each other (intentional I suspect). The back blurbs (by Moorcock and Lethem) compare it to Greene, Le Carre, and Borges (leaning strongest towards Borges) all of which I can concur with. Sallis writes nearly perfect books; poetic, existential, funny, cool, sinister, and beautiful.

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