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Eye of the Cricket (A Lew Griffin Mystery) Hardcover – November 1, 1997
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His fourth book in the Lew Griffin series proves once again that James Sallis is one of the most death-defying writers working in the mystery genre. Readers who have the persistence to untangle a twisted time line and go with the peculiar flow of Sallis's unique prose will find many rewards. Griffin, a New Orleans-based, 50-ish African American novelist, teacher, and occasional detective, dots his twisting tale with dozens of references to the act of writing, plus verbal samplings of everyone from James Joyce to Emily Dickinson. Griffin is obsessed with searches for missing children: a 15-year-old boy named Delany who has dropped into a dangerous world of drugs; the somewhat older son of Griffin's best friend, who also seems determined to destroy himself; and David, Griffin's own, long-gone son. Looking for a connection to David, Griffin abandons his hard-won sobriety and sets out on a drunken quest through some of New Orleans's seediest sectors. There's not much mystery in this long section, but it leads to an ending that will have you on the edge of your seat. Previous books in the Griffin series available in paperback include Black Hornet and Moth.
From Library Journal
Series protagonist Lewis Griffin (see Black Hornet, LJ 9/1/94), fiftyish writer, part-time college instructor, and sometimes sleuth in New Orleans, searches for a client's missing son. He also hunts for a briefly hospitalized man who claims to be Lewis (though without the writer's block). Neighbors, meanwhile, ask him to look out for the teenagers who have been terrorizing the area. After stumbling across several murder victims, Lewis wonders about his own long-lost son as well. The author's quiet skill shines forth in the vibrant surroundings, literate prose, and skillful and diverse characterizations. Highly recommended.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Our protagonist is Lew Griffin, a Black man in his early 50's who has had a hard life battling his personal demons and bad luck with people around him. He is similar in a way to Walter Mosley's Easy Rawlins who tells a story within a story. In this case, Griffin leads us off into numerous subplots and stories about his past. James Sallis' books are far darker than Walter Mosley's works (I am a huge fan of Mosley too)
I will admit that James Sallis is not for everyone, I am sure there are many people who would become disinterested by the sidetracking of the main story that occurs and trying to keep up with the characters portrayed but to me, he is absolutely one of the best of the best.
Worth your time in reading him as you will learn something about people.
Cricket presents the problem of the crime writer who doesn't appear to be all that interested in writing about crime. In this novel Griffin investigates a couple of missing persons cases in a laidback sort of way that involves a lot of eating and drinking in colourful New Orleans eateries while asking questions of obligingly talkative friends and acquaintances. In this way we get an engaging tour of the city, but there isn't really any detection going on. And the final 40 or so pages have Griffin living on the street in order to find his son who disappeared in New York several years previously. The missing son portion the story is poorly developed and makes for a limp, saccharine finale.
Sallis isn't the first crime writer to lose interest in crime. Michael Dibdin's series of mysteries featuring Comissario Aurelio Zen eventually became mood pieces with a bit of crime on the side. American mystery writer K.C. Constantine hit the wall after nine books about Mario Balzic, the Chief of Police of Rocksburg, PA. He rejuvenated himself by retiring Balzic and writing about his replacement, but before that happened his last two Balzic novels were nothing more than extended rants about life in America under Ronald Reagan.
Sallis' focus in this novel is on Griffin coping with middle age and dealing with the demons of his past. Sallis is a good writer, sometimes a fine writer with a Faulknerian way with words, but his ability to craft prose can't disguise the fact that he isn't really interested in telling a story. Another sign that Sallis is more interested in creating a literary novel is that he has Griffin quoting and referencing famous authors at a furious clip. That kind of thing is never a good idea; it always seems to be a substitute for storytelling. I can't recommend this book, but I'm curious to see if Sallis is a more disciplined writer in Drive and the earlier Griffin novels.
Read more of my reviews at JettisonCocoon dot com.
As with the other Lew Griffin novels, the focus is not on the mystery but more on the inner struggle that Lew goes through, having dealt with the loss of so many loved ones and trying to reconcile. This book is really more of a social commentary, and the noir feeling to it beautifully highlights the struggles that Lew and all of us have to deal with. Lew just allows himself to sink to lower depths than most people would ever consider, giving him a different and well-rounded perspective.
The writing here is outstanding. Occasionally I'd have to pause in my reading just to bask in the perfection. For lack of a better word, it's just so poetic. The words and tone are spot-on, and many scenes are so wonderfully illustrated that I found myself smiling with satisfaction after reading them. Sallis doesn't waste any words yet still conveys the emotions and impressions of his characters so well. These novels leave such an impact that I'm always left wanting to read the next one.