Friday, November 30, 2012

Review of Cypress Grove by James Sallis (2003, No Exit Press)

Turner is hiding out in the woods somewhere between Memphis and nowhere.  He keeps to himself, letting life drift by until Sheriff Lonnie Bates turns up on his porch seeking help with a murder.  Following a stint in Vietnam, Turner became a Memphis detective, but after shooting his partner was sent to prison.  There he hit the books and studied for a degree and on release built a new life for himself, before abandoning that too for the woods.  Bates cares little for Turner’s past; unused to investigating a violent death he needs his skills.  And deep down Turner needs Bates’ compassion and friendship.  Accepting the challenge, Turner starts on the trail of identifying the dead drifter and who killed him, and of slipping back into society.

Cypress Grove is oddly captivating.  It’s not a page-turner in the sense of a high powered thriller, but rather it hooks the reader in a quiet, understated way.  Sallis’ storytelling kind of just drifts along regardless of dramatic moments, sketching out a portrait of an essentially good man whose life has been punctuated by terrible moments: being drafted to Vietnam, killing his partner, killing a prison inmate just prior to being released; all of them somehow beyond his control.  Sallis’ is a noted poet and essayist as well as novelist and it shows in his writing, which has a lyrical cadence and some lovely turns of phrase.  The story is told through two intersecting plotlines that alternate across chapters; one in the present; the other Turner’s back story.  It’s an effective structure, providing a series of interesting counterpoints.  The plot itself is relatively straightforward and Turner solves the case quite easily, but the puzzle is hardly the main focus of the story, rather it's Turner’s journey and the unfolding of his re-integration into life and law enforcement.


3 comments:

Margot Kinberg said...

Rob - This really does sound good! Among other things in your excellent review, the setting in this one draws me in.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Enjoyed this book a lot also.

Mack said...

Sallis is a beautiful writer. The scene where Sheriff Bates & Tanner meet on Tanner's porch is a wonderful picture of two men interacting non-verbally.

Did you catch his brief nod to Jim Thompson's book, Pop. 1208?