|'An Unsung Genius of Crime Writing' - Independent On Sunday|
MORE ABOUT JAMES SALLIS
James Sallis has received considerable critical acclaim over his career. One of the most insightful and interesting pieces was written by Iain Sinclair for the London Review of Books. Below is a short extract - follow the link for the full article:
Sallis belongs, as I discovered when I visited him in Phoenix, Arizona, among the cat people. So many of the real writers, the old-timers (of my own age and more), are hiding out, animate but estranged, in a kind of Witness Protection programme. And they all live with cats. (As does Lew Griffin. The first responsibility of the solitary, damaged private eye is to feed an inherited animal. That’s how time passes. That’s how the passing days are signified: by the failure to open a tin of whale dreck. And they drink, the burnt-out investigators, or are recovering drunks – like the stressed writers who struggle, year after year, to reinvent them. Drink frees memory, dissolves the membrane between things.) I see them, these heroic survivors, as spectres from Hemingway’s ‘The Killers’. They’re waiting to be found, to be found out. They can’t remember their own aliases, all the old books merge into one story. Sallis is acutely aware of what makes him write, the nagging terrors – ‘existential pit things we all carry around with us’ – that have to be appeased. But he can’t recall where one book stops and another starts. ‘I don’t differentiate,’ he said. ‘In fact, I would have trouble telling you what happened in any single book.’
Neither cats nor authors go out much. Place is unimportant. It’s where you live, no more than that: a stopover. How did William Burroughs finish up in a clapboard cabin in Lawrence, Kansas, with his brood of sleek, well-fed felines? The old man mumbled something unconvincing about property prices. Why did the quintessentially English Michael Moorcock nominate the second Confederate governor of Texas’s mansion in Bastrop, thirty miles out of Austin, as a suitable estate for his tax exile? Only the cats know. Spooky, over-refined Egyptian beasts who are let out on a leash while the dew is on the grass, but otherwise confined to quarters. Survival on the new frontier depends on three things: cats, guns and e-mail. The sleeping beasts, curled into a fur-ball, operate as controllers, programming the writers to pitch a new kind of fiction: the familiar tricks and reflexes of genre fodder macerated in a literary sensibility. Poetry smuggled in at the back door. Sallis, an accomplished musician who has played and taught guitar, has a beautiful sense of the pitch and rhythm of language. He knows precisely how to use what he calls ‘the battery of effects available: alliteration, syllabics, alexandrines, slant rhymes, simple euphony’. A paragraph in one of the Griffin books will appear first as a piece of scene-setting, a sudden epiphany of light, and then be played back, chapters later, revised and restructured, as a quotation from a book that the investigator is reading. ‘What had begun as a letter to an old friend … had become the opening pages of a novel.’ The storyteller gains our trust because we know that he knows he is not telling the truth. He is improvising, shifting between modes, working the changes. ‘We learn to use memory,’ Sallis says, ‘the way we use art: use it to cobble together images of ourselves.’ Memory haunts Griffin, sight and smell and taste, restoring dead landscapes to a fragmented present tense: ‘The worn mahogany curb of the bar. A glass of bourbon sat before me, its outer surface smeared and greasy to the touch. A young roach circled water pooling about the glass.’
For the full article, visit the London Review of Books
JAMES SALLIS has published fourteen novels, multiple collections of short stories, essays, and poems, books of musicology, a biography of Chester Himes, and a translation of Raymond Queneau's novel Saint Glinglin. He has written about books for the L.A. Times, New York Times, and Washington Post, and for some years served as a books columnist for the Boston Globe. In 2007 he received a lifetime achievement award from Bouchercon. In addition to Drive, the six Lew Griffin books are now in development as feature films. Jim teaches novel writing at Phoenix College and plays regularly with his string band, Three-Legged Dog. He stays busy.
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JAMES SALLIS CRITICAL ACCLAIM
'Sallis is a wonderful writer, dark, lyrical and compelling'
- The Spectator
'Sallis’s spare, concrete prose achieves the level of poetry'
'James Sallis is a superb writer'
- The Times
'Sallis is a fastidious man, intelligent and widely read. There's nothing slapdash or merely strategic about his work '
- London Review of Books
'Sallis writes crime novels that read like literature '
- Los Angeles Times
'Sallis creates vivid images in very few words and his taut, pared-down prose is distinctive and powerful'
- The Sunday Telegraph
'He's right up there, one of the best of the best. His series of novels about private eye Lew Griffin is thoughtful, challenging and beautifully written'
- Ian Rankin, Guardian
'James Sallis is doing some of the most interesting and provocative work in the field of private eye fiction. His New Orleans is richly atmospheric and darker than noir. '
- Lawrence Block
'Haunting... Sallis writes poetic rings around the subject'
- New York Times
'James Sallis writes crime novels that read like literature.'
- Los Angeles Times
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