Tuesday, August 27, 2019

57. The Long-Legged Fly by James Sallis

There is a really good book store here in Montreal, Le Port de Tête, that opened in the last ten years on Avenue Mont-Royal and I believe is somewhat of a success story.  It is mostly french books with an excellent selection of bandes-dessinées and children's books, which is what I mostly patronize it for.  They had a bunch of english paperback for a while, lots of Jim Thompson's and Agatha Christie's which for some reason I never went in and investigated.  That was a few years ago and I think caught the leftovers in the sidewalk sale they had put out for the street fair.  I got this book, a James Hadley Chase and a Fredric Brown mystery as well as a pre-war British boys espionage/adventure book.

I grabbed this one because the protagonist PI was black and it had a look of one of those late 80s/early 90s paperbacks that can be pretty easy to read.  I found it a bit of a puzzler.  After reading it, I read up on Sallis.  He has a very good reputation and the Lew Griffin series, of which this is the first, is well regarded, even considered under-rated.  Maybe I have to read more of them, but this was an odd beginning.  It takes place over almost the detective's entire life starting in 1964 and following with sections in 1970, 1984 and 1990, each a stage in his life as well as a missing persons crime.  Griffin's detecting mainly seems to be calling people on the phone and then threatening people, because he is big and has a reputation for being crazy, though there is almost zero actual fighting.  A lot goes on in very few pages, with a lot of philosophizing about life, most of it dark.  There is lots of local New Orleans colour, also generally quite down and out.  Sallis is white and while Griffin's race is a big factor, the voice just did not feel black at all to me.  It felt like most semi-intellectual hard-boiled detectives.  Furthermore, by the end, he becomes a succesful writer and even suggests that he (the character) is the one writing the book.  Maybe too strong to call it problematic, but I think I would much rather read a book about an African-American detective in New Orleans written by an African-American. 

Also, several of the missing person's vignettes just seemed implausible.  The civil rights leader who disappears to become a white prostitute and then ends up in an insane asylum, the good christian runaway who gets in brutal porn movies but the director is also in love with her?  It just didn't really add up and none of it was really connected.  I don't know, this didn't work for me.

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