Review of The Long-Legged Fly by James Sallis (1996, No Exit Press)
Perpetually haunted by his race and his own failures, Lew Griffin drifts from one case to the next, and from one bar to another, working as a private detective in New Orleans. In most crime novels the hook is the solving the crime. Sallis takes a different route, focusing instead on Griffin and the everyday lives of those a crime effects. In The Long-Legged Fly he provides a glimpse into the long arc of Griffin’s life by charting four cases set in 1964, 1970, 1984 and 1990. The result is a wonderfully emotive tale underpinned by strong character development and observational philosophy. Sallis’ narrative subtly explores race and gender in the Deep South, and reflects on the intricate webs of social and political relations and histories people are bound up in. While each of the four cases is engaging, it is Griffin’s story and his relationships with his clients, women and a local policeman that fascinates. Sallis revels in the question ‘what does this all mean?’, with Griffin looking for answers on the street and the bottom of a glass. Moreover, his prose is a joy to read. I loved the book from start to finish.