on 3 January 2008
........do not read this book before you have read James Sallis' previous novels about Turner. These are CYPRESS GROVE and CRIPPLE CREEK. Better still, buy them all and settle down to read classic crime fiction. I will not go into too much detail because I do not consider myself qualified to dictate my taste in fiction to others.....hey,you may hate Sallis.
Please also consider reading Sallis' six Lew Griffin novels......start with 'The Long Legged Fly' (1992) and read them in sequence from there.....
especially if you have experience of the city of New Orleans.....or not.
Sallis is not for everyone, but for those who are introduced to his work from this review and are as captivated as I have been......they have many hours of reading pleasure ahead.
on 1 October 2016
There are few authors I like more than James Sallis and over the last couple of years, in order to catch-up with his back catalogue, there are probably no authors I have read more. You would think I would get bored, yet I really can’t get enough. I love his simple yet complex writing style – yes, you can have both – he uses few words but each says so much and he has a beautiful turn of phrase. As Sallis says in the book…
‘Two schools of thought. One has it we’re best off using simple words, plain words. That fancier ones only serve to obscure meaning –wrap it in swaddling clothes. Other side says that takes everything down to the lowest common denominator, that thought is complex and if you want to get close to what’s really meant you have to choose words carefully, words that catch up gradations, nuances …’
His characters are complex too, including Turner, who is central to this trilogy of books – with Salt River being the last. Getting to know Turner has been like peeling an onion as layer on layer reveals more stories and sadness. Sadness is how I felt reading this book too because Turner hasn’t gotten over the murder of his girlfriend Val two years ago. He is frozen in time and place.
I expected him to move again, not just go through the motions, when Eldon – his and Val’s old friend – turns up and says he might have killed someone. Or when the former sherfiff’s estranged son announces his arrival back in town by driving into the wall of the sherrif’s office. The old Turner would have tracked people down, thrown some punches, set the world to rights. This Tuner let the world right itself.
And it did, right itself, in ways that were perfectly fitting if not action packed. But sometimes you don’t need action, just a really well written story with characters you have come to care about in the middle of it. I am sad to say goodbye to Turner but it seems right to do so. This book was a fitting end to his story and I loved it.
James Sallis, who can convey as much information in one sentence as most authors convey in a paragraph, concludes his John Turner trilogy with this dark, contemplative novel about life's unfinished stories. Turner's own life is a story in the making. A war veteran and ex-con who spent nineteen months in prison, where he studied to become a psychological counselor, Turner eventually worked with the Memphis Police Department before escaping to the small town of Cripple Creek to escape the violence. Persuaded to step in as temporary sheriff, he discovers that violent death makes its way even to small towns, the subject of _Cripple Creek_, the previous novel in the trilogy.
At the outset of Salt River, more than two years later, Turner has seen and done it all, buffeted by fate and his own bad choices. He has remained in Cripple Creek, but his life is dark, sad, and full of the knowledge that unexpected horrors can cripple, if not kill, even the most flickering of one's personal hopes. Though this short novel could be considered a noir mystery, filled with violence, misery, and the inhumane behaviors with which men must deal in their everyday lives, the focus here is primarily on Turner and his "self-narrative."
In many ways a mystery man who refuses wear his heart or his personal history on his sleeve, Turner works on three pressing law enforcement issues here while reminiscing about his life and contemplating his future. Billy Bates, the renegade son of the sheriff, crashes a car into City Hall and is seriously injured. The circumstances under which he acquired the car are a pressing issue. Isaiah Stillman, who has founded a commune in the hills, learns that his friend Merle has been murdered on his way to see Isaiah. Merle has been carrying an unusual package. And Milly Bates, wife of the sheriff's son Billy, is mysteriously kidnapped and may be dead.
Life, Turner shows us, is messy, and people's lives are always unfinished stories. People do what they can to muddle through, with little expectation that their efforts will bear fruit. "There are mountain men or cowboys inside us all, Henry David Thoreau and Clint Eastwood riding double in our bloodstreams and our dreams," Turner observes. Ultimately, "we don't stub our toes on streets of gold...we don't tell people we love how much we love them when it matters, we never quite inhabit the shadows we cast as we cross this world." Spare with details and minimalist in style, this intelligent and thoughtful novel of ideas and identity further enhances Sallis's reputation as one of the best contemporary noir writers out there. Mary Whipple
on 29 March 2016
Two years after the loss of his lady love, ex-cop, ex-con, ex-therapist John Turner finds himself the defacto Sheriff of a dying town. His life is complicated by the return of two people: the actual Sheriff's son, who arrives in spectacular fashion by plowing into City Hall in a stolen car, and Turner's good friend Eldon, who may or may not have killed someone.
Let's get this out of the way first: if you're looking for fast-paced crime fiction or an intricately intriguing mystery plot-line then James Sallis may not be for you. His tales meander, and are more about damaged characters and musings on the human condition.
But if you like evocative storytelling that will make you think, that pierces into some of those dark and doubting places in our souls like a sliver of dull daylight through the cracks of an abandoned building, then you're in for a real treat when you open one of James Sallis's lyrical crime tales.
A published poet as well as a crime writer, short story writer, essayist, reviewer, and string band member, Sallis brings a broad outlook to his novels while at the same time distilling things in a very concise, powerful way. His writing is elegant and meditative, his prose full of poetic delights.
Salt River caps his trilogy about Deputy Sheriff John Turner, a man living out his days in a dying small town near Memphis. There is some mystery and crime - what's going on with the Sheriff's long-lost son renovating City Hall with his car, and is Turner's good friend Eldon guilty of murder or not? But really this book is more about aging, and dying. The passing of time and the waning of life. What we do with the time we have left. It's contemplative and introspective, and appears to ramble across the landscape more than having clear direction, but the writing is so beautiful and the chords struck so resonant that I didn't mind, that I didn't miss it having a clear spine of crime investigation.
If you like Southern Gothic tales, or classic noir that isn't as neat as a lot of crime fiction, then you might really appreciate what Sallis has created in Salt River. He brings the battered nature of his rural Tennessee setting to vivid life with poetic insight. He cuts us to the core as he and his characters reflect on the cruel inequities that can divert our lives, the inescapable countdown to when our own lights will be switched off for a final time, and how to find and cherish moments of beauty, however small, before then. The flowering weeds growing through paving-stone cracks in a prison yard.
Overall, Salt River is a slim novel (160 pages) that packs a subtle but powerful punch.
Craig Sisterson is a journalist from New Zealand who writes for magazines and newspapers in several countries. He has interviewed more than 140 crime writers, discussed crime fiction at literary festivals and on radio, and is the Judging Convenor of the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel. Follow him on Twitter: @craigsisterson
on 24 May 2014
Salt River is the third book in the Turner trilogy, which ideally need to be read in sequence. At 160 pages it’s more of a novella than novel, but is, I feel, the strongest of the trilogy, in part because the plot is more central than the earlier books, which seemed to concentrate more on the telling of the story rather than the story itself. Sallis is a poet and it shows in the strength of his prose, which is evocative and haunting, dotted with acute observations and philosophical asides. The characterisation is nicely portrayed and Sallis weaves a well developed sense of place. There is no strong hook or sense of urgency or tension, instead the narrative floats along, much like Turner does, sometimes in the flow, other times in the eddies. The result is a thoughtful, reflexive and compulsive tale about a man still coming to terms with his own bad choices and fate as he muddles through trying to resolve the various issues that are placed in his path. A superior piece of literary crime fiction.
on 18 August 2015
A character in Val Mcdermid's 'Killing the Shadows' was reading a James Sallis novel. I had never encountered the name before, so I followed the clue and downloaded the Turner Trilogy. Reflective and seemingly leisurely in style, Sallis generates a suspense that is subtle rather than break-neck through a narrator who is as noir as any, yet thoroughly engaging. This is first class story telling and finely turned writing.
on 30 November 2008
I agree with the previous reviewer that the trilogy should ideally be read in sequence, but this is also such a great book that I imagine it would stand up independently. It is a melancholic masterpiece, it really is. It has the attributes of great blues music - touching the lowest points, creating a mournful mood, but the culmination is redemptive and affirmative. When I arrived at the last line, I just sat and reflected. It has lived with me since.
A really excellent novel.
on 22 May 2015
The trilogy keeps rolling along as the story keeps building with new insights and twists and turns along the way, that your disappointed to find that you have reached the end of the book yet again just when you were settling down to read once more. So it's time to start the next book in the Trilogy and become drawn in yet further into the story.
on 11 December 2013
after buying an edition of the big issue I took notice of the article written about the five (or 6) books you should read before you die
they are brilliant
Barbara vine needs no introduction but
I had never heard of james sallies,you do need to read all three of his as they are a trilogy
on 21 November 2014
As a fill in for James Lee Burke it worked,not the wordsmith that Burke is but Sallis takes you to the same places.