James Sallis makes numerous contributions to the literary world - to date he has penned some 24 volumes among them are works of poetry, fiction, biography, translation, essays, and criticism. (He also writes a column for the Boston Globe's review section). Not the least recognized and appreciated among his works are the Lew Griffin series, crime stories. With these books he has created an intriguing lead character in Griffin, a complex, often violent, sometimes compassionate private investigator who happens to be black.
Black Hornet is set during one of 1960s hottest summers in New Orleans. Now, the heat isn't just reflected by the thermometer but by the escalated temperatures of the people - they're angry, hostile, riled by separatists and the Black Panthers. Not a good place to be when nothing and no one is cooling off.
Five people have been killed - randomly shot by a sniper. The sixth victim, a white woman, happened to be standing right by Griffin when she was shot. Too close for comfort and too much for Griffin to take so he sets about finding the crazed killer.
Sallis is a superb storyteller, an eloquent writer whose prose packs an even greater wallop in part due to its spareness. His writing is authentic and atmospheric, his wording taut as this novel races to an unexpected finish.
G. Valmont Thomas, a member of the acting company at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival delivers a riveting narration as Griffin wrestles with his private demons and chases down a killer.
on 22 August 2011
Late 1960s, New Orleans. A sniper shot a woman Lew Griffin had just become acquainted with so off he goes. Or does he? More people than expected ring his bell and every one of them is invited for a cup of coffee or a drink. People drop in and out like stage characters that have missed the right play, all good guys whose main claim to being in this small book is that they fill up space. The bad guy does not ring Lew's bell, he hurts him. Lew meanders. Lew reads good books (The Stranger). Lew drinks a lot of whiskey. Lew gets beaten up badly twice but recovers to old form in next to no time. What's in this gumbo? A bit of Chandler, Ellison, Himes, and others: yes; some existentialism especially in regard to black/white tensions of the time: sure; interesting thoughts on human memory: yes; a good story: no. Lew gets the killer, of course.
on 16 April 2001
Third in the series of books detailing the complex life of Lew Griffin,literary private eye and lecturer,this volume again captures the unique atmosphere of New Orleans and its underside.A truly wonderful read.You will find yourself walking the streets with Lew,smelling the fried shrimp and tasting the gumbo.
Book 3 in the Lew Griffin series by James Sallis is more a meditation on what it means to be human in troubled times, rather than a crime novel. The plot is driven by the activities of a sniper, picking off white victims in New Orleans, but it doesn't hang together that well as a piece of detective fiction, although I'm pretty sure that's not Sallis's main motivation for writing them. A previous reviewer has pretty much summed up the book well, it contains lots of booze, references to good books, existentialism, and various characters drifting in and out of the narrative, and Griffin gets beaten up lots, which feels like some kind of retribution and redemption theme running through these strange but readable little tales.
What the books lack in plot (they are light and unconvincing), they perhaps make up for in ruminations about being alive and trying to make sense of the world in dark times. The brooding atmosphere of New Orleans is done well (up there with James Lee Burke but done with less words), and the link between literature and alcohol comes out strongly - a theme also explored in the bleak but clever books written by Ken Bruen. There is lots to enjoy here in terms of good writing, and the Lew Griffin series has a certain appeal - thought-provoking, short, easy to breeze through - a refreshing change from so much of the bloated tosh that gets churned out these days. But traditional crime writing it ain't.