Sallis shines again in this offbeat tale of a dropout detective.
Having put to rest his long-running, much-respected Lew Griffin series (Ghost of a Flea, 2002, etc.), Sallis, ever among the most unconventional and interesting writers of crime fiction, introduces a new protagonist who could be Griffin’s white brother. Turner (no first name), an ex-cop who’s also an ex-con—the fault not really his—has come to Cypress Grove, a backwater near Memphis, as a hermitage. He uses his spartan cabin and its minimalist furnishings—a few chairs, some kitchen utensils, a cot—to do some drinking, contemplate his navel, and not a lot else until the day the local sheriff penetrates his crippling emotional baggage. Lonnie Bates has a murder on his hands with all the unsettling aspects of a carefully staged ritual killing. The fact is, however, that any homicide would be unsettling to Sheriff Bates, and he knows it. “I’m in over my head,” he tells Turner, whose case-clearing reputation has preceded him from Memphis. Reluctantly, Turner allows himself to be drafted. Eventually, he does what the sheriff needs him to, but that turns out to be almost incidental compared to what he does for himself in allowing friendship and the unexpected kindness of strangers to move him toward personal redemption.
A featherweight mystery, but appealingly complex characters, and a prose style to savor.