Turner

Created by James Sallis

"No one is exempt."

-- Turner's mantra

All TURNER wants is to put his past(s) behind him and live in peace. And we first meet him, at the the beginning of 2003's Cypress Grove, the former cop, former con and former therapist has done just that -- he's living in a remote cabin near Cripple Creek, Tennessee, a small town outside of Memphis.

But a murder in the local town brings the county sheriff calling -- not because Turner is any kind of suspect, but because the sheriff (who admits to being in over his head) needs Turner's help. Turner somewhat reluctantly agrees, and things are off and running in this terrific new series by James Sallis, author of the acclaimed Lew Griffin novels..

Sallis's writing is wonderfully lyrical and layered, reminiscent of James Lee Burke. Taking nothing away from either writer, it is hard to ignore the similarities between the two: the southern setting, the moody atmosphere so richly captured, the complex and diverse characterizations, the juxtaposition of silken prose against scenes of sudden and graphic violence it's all there and it's all extremely well done. The mystery element (although quite satisfying) is not the thing so much as the rich texture of the presentation.

And no character is more complex and interesting than Turner himself. His background -- what makes him tick, what has brought him to this point -- is cleverly revealed in the first novel through alternating segments interspersed with the unfolding of the central plot. He's troubled by his violent past, yet he seems to recognize and accept that he is still capable of violence if/when the need arises.

By the second novel in the series, Cripple Creek (2006), Turner has signed on as a deputy sheriff for the county, which threatens his status as a true “private eye” for the purpose of this listing. How-ever, like Burke's Dave Robicheaux, Turner's strict adherence to the rules and regulations of police protocol are what you might call a little loose. In other words, he operates oft-times like a private eye.

And the sheriff seems generally willing to cut him the slack he needs at least up to this point. By the end of Cripple Creek, however, Turner's own long-lost daughter, recently arrived from Seattle where she'd been a highly respected police detective, has assumed the vacated sheriff's job. Where that will lead to remains to be seen. I, for one, am looking forward to finding out.

Highly recommended.

A renowned critic, poet, essayist and professor himself, Sallis has written a highly-regarded critical study of Jim Thompson, David Goodis and Chester Himes entitled Difficult Lives, and is the author of the celebrated Lew Griffin series. But he may be best known these days for his 2005 dark brooding novel Drive, which was adapted into a widely acclaimed 2011 film, starring Ryan Gosling.

UNDER OATH

  • "The truth is that some writers some writers use and abuse genre constraints as they see fit. They simply write to their voices and interests. James Sallis is such a writer."

-- Sarah Weinman, New York Times Book Review

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