WILLNOT by James Sallis


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From veteran Sallis (Others of My Kind, 2013, etc.) comes this short, charming novel that's part noir mystery and part small-town slice of life.

The story starts fast and portentously (its first four words are "We found the bodies…"), and the book has the form of a suspense novel: there's a bewildering mass grave that must be excavated; a suddenly returned native, Bobby Lowndes, a boyhood-coma survivor who seems to be a military sniper gone AWOL, who keeps managing, wraithlike, to hide in plain sight; a dogged FBI agent named Theodora Ogden in town to track Lowndes; and more. It also has a talky, noirish tone, with lots of snappy patter and sharp, laconic, philosophical observation. But at its core, and satisfyingly, this turns out to be a character-driven novel about a thoroughly thoughtful, decent, compassionate doctor, Lamar Hale, and his community of colleagues, patients, friends, and acquaintances. Lamar and his wisecracking romantic partner, Richard, a teacher, provide a still domestic center around which the chaos revolves. Part of it is the usual stuff of noir, expertly deployed, and part the material of the eccentric-small-town novel. Sallis builds suspense over the many months the story spans by alternating between plot point and shaggy dog anecdote, making the reader wonder when and how the novel's two kinds of plot and rhythm will entwine: when will the violence and darkness finally encroach on this cozy domestic sphere and threaten or destroy it? Sallis' latest has a lot to recommend it: an ingenious and unusual use of the MacGuffin; pungent dialogue; a world that's either dark shot through with abundant light or light shot through with abundant dark; likable, complex characters.

A brisk and sure-handed treat.

Pub Date: June 21st, 2016
ISBN: 978-1-63286-452-9
Page count: 192pp
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 2016


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