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Salt River: A Novel (John Turner Series) Hardcover – December 26, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. At the start of Sallis's sublime third novel to feature the philosophical John Turner (after 2006's Cripple Creek), Turner, now the sheriff of a nameless rural community near Memphis, still grieves for his lover, Val, who was murdered two years earlier. His opening mantra—Sometimes you just have to see how much music you can make with what you have left—relates to not only Turner's melancholy mood but also the economically depressed area and its aging inhabitants. As Turner ponders the abstractions of life on a Main Street bench, a speeding car crashes through the front wall of city hall driven by the former sheriff's troubled son. The ensuing investigation leads Turner to some startling revelations about human nature as well as his own uncertain future. Sallis brilliantly uses flashbacks and tangential anecdotes, but it's the poetic prose (blackbirds and crows crowded together at water's edge, covens of diminutive priests) and the richly described rural Southern backdrop that make this slim book such a rewarding read. (Jan.)
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"A sweet song of the South from a crime novelist with the ear of a poet."--Phil Kloer, Atlanta Journal-Constitution

"...haunting….Sallis writes poetic rings around the subject."--Marilyn Stasio, New York Times Book Review

"Sallis is a gifted polymath: poet, biographer, translator, essayist, musician and prolific (if criminally neglected) novelist. His Turner books are little gems, with their sharp descriptions and melancholy reflections."--Adam Woog, The Seattle Times

"...elegiac meditations on fate, grief, and how we persevere in spite of it all. B+"—Entertainment Weekly

"James Sallis might be the "purest" writer of crime fiction in America today. Which means that, beyond whatever story he's telling, his books are worth reading solely for what rises from the inspired use of language....Sallis is a man of multiple talents: poet, translator, musician, teacher and a crime fiction scholar....All of this is brought to bear, vividly, in "Salt River." He assembles sentences like a virtuoso guitarist working the fret board, gracefully choosing each word (or more accurately, each note) and making it resonate. Scenes often read like prose-poems, but they are assembled with the rigor a mystery demands. The succession of chapters exert a rhythmic, almost tidal pull, leading to a conclusion that defies genre expectation - but satisfies something far deeper."--Eddie Muller, San Francisco Chronicle

"... the power of simplicity and the musical ring of truth as only Sallis can deliver it -- as he has done bravely, consistently, for the last few decades."--Sarah Weinman, Los Angeles Times Book Review

"If you enjoy fine, minimalist prose and thoughtful, intelligent crime stories, you would be well advised to begin with the first in the series and read them all."--Associated Press

"...will especially resonate with anyone struggling with darkness at this cheery time of year."--Charlotte Observer

"James Sallis writes wonderfully….That he is a poet somehow must influence his use of language, although he is not flowery, if that’s what “poet” brings to mind"--Andi Schecter, I Love A Mystery

"...the powerful and atmospheric short novel Salt River excels as a poignant character study and darkly riveting mystery. Paradoxically though elegantly combining the raw grit of noir fiction and the lyrical intensity of Southern gothic, Salt River further confirms the author's prestigious reputation as exemplary poet, translator, novelist, and recipient of the Boucheron Lifetime Achievement Award in 2007."

“Sallis is…always about good writing. This little gem is a case in point.”—Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review

"Sublime....the poetic prose...and the richly described rural Southern backdrop make this slim book such a rewarding read."—Publishers Weekly, Starred Review

"Like a tightly structured blues song, the melancholy tale finds resonance in every line and every prolonged chord….Sallis comes as close as humanly possible here to turning a mystery novel into a lyric poem."—Booklist, Starred Review


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Product Details

  • Series: John Turner Series
  • Hardcover: 146 pages
  • Publisher: Walker & Company; First Edition edition (December 26, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802716172
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802716170
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.7 x 8.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,314,810 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Clarice on October 19, 2011
Format: Hardcover
This review is primarily a warning to readers NOT to read this book if you have not already read the first two books in the series, CYPRESS GROVE and CRIPPLE CREEK. This is the third book in a trilogy.

I picked this one up on remainder, having heard good things about Sallis. The book is exceedingly brief; and I have no problem with that, as I can find a tight novel very memorable. The problem is that, unless you've read the first two books, attempting to read SALT RIVER is like being dropped down into the middle of a soap opera you've never seen before and know nothing about. Throughout the entire book, I didn't know who the characters were; there is an assumption that you know their back stories, but not having read the first two books, I knew nothing - and the author provides almost no help for the uninitiated.

As a result, I spent the entire reading experience wondering who was related to whom, who had done what in the past, and how all of this was relevant to the paper-thin plot of SALT RIVER. The title, I assume, refers to the tears of self-pity that the narrator, Turner, cries for himself throughout.

Still, I try to write fair reviews so I am basing my rating on what I would likely have given the book if I'd read the first two in the trilogy. I can forgive the watered-down plots, which have little mystery to them but a lot of confusion. I'm less forgiving of the continual pontification/philosophizing of the narrator, and I'm even less forgiving when I feel that the author doesn't consider the reader very much in his writing. This is an extremely author-centric book, and while I know that praise has been heaped on Sallis, I really cannot see what all the fuss is about.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Gary Griffiths VINE VOICE on July 12, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I don't think you can read James Sallis and not walk away struck with awe and reverence. While others may major in plot or clever twists and irony, Sallis' triumph is his mastery of the language - his use of simple words effortlessly spun in to passages unlocking emotion and conjuring images that defy the common rural settings and ordinary folk of which he writes. This is the English language at its best - the power of Faulkner told in words that can actually be understood. Or think Cormac McCarthy with punctuation - a less complex, but equally potent rendering of the literature.

"Salt Creek" is the third, and one would think the last, in the series of John Turner, the ex-many-things and reluctant fill-in sheriff of a small Tennessee town where he's returned to settle out his last years. As the homilies and allegories and metaphors compete for precious space across Sallis' scant pages, he tells a dark and remorseful tale of lost youth and death that is as relevant to the dying town as it is to its unfortunate but colorful and well-drawn characters. Sallis slides easily in time - memories and dreams blur and blend and are at least as important as Turner's dealing in the here-and-now. But if you're like me, you'll find yourself only casually interested in the events that led the Sheriff's wayward son to crash an apparently stolen car into the City Hall, or unravel the mystery of Turner's friend Eldon Brown, who shows up after a two year absence telling Turner he may or may not have killed someone - as the soaring prose provides more than enough pleasure to pass the too few hours of reading that end too quickly.

So if you measure your literary purchases in dollars/word, this may disappoint - try "War and Peace".
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on January 2, 2008
Format: Hardcover
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 key 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.
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