In this beautifully-written book, two mysteries are gradually described: one in the present, as Turner investigates a ritualistic murder of a homeless man in a small town, the other the mystery of the detective himself and how he came to be where and who he is. The former we simply watch unfold in fascination, as we might a complex clockwork. The latter we are drawn inexorably into. We spiral down with Turner through the unavoidable tragedies of his life, only to emerge somewhat unexpectedly into the hopeful light of the ending. This is possibly Sallis's most openly optimistic book, but it loses none of his trademark style, seamlessly blending the hard-boiled with the sublime.
This report prepared by Quien Katan
Walker, June 2003, 24.00, 272 pp.
Turner has not had an easy life. Fresh off the plane from Vietnam, with images of atrocities churning in his head, he signs up to become a Memphis police officer. His was not a sterling career but he ended it spectacularly when he killed his partner and was sentenced to three years in jail. Two months before he was to get out, he killed a man in self-defense and was sentenced to another twenty-five years.
After spending more than a dozen years in prison, always looking over his shoulder for the next attack, he finally got out and set up practice as a psychotherapist. When he got tired of the rat race he moved to a small Tennessee town, fully intending to live a solitary life. His isolation doesn't last long before the local sheriff consults with him on a homicide case. Unable to refuse, Turner gets sucked into an investigation where small time politics and a movie fan's desire to meet his idol collides, killing a mentally impaired innocent who wouldn't hurt a grasshopper.
CYPRESS GROVE is really two stories that form a whole tale. In alternating chapters, readers get to see how a small town murder unfolds and why Turner ended up in the town where the homicide occurs. By only using the surname Turner and not revealing the location of the town, James Sallis dehumanizes the man and town so that readers are forced to use their imagination to fill in the blanks. The mystery is well constructed and believable but it is Turner's story that touches the heart of the reader.
This report prepared by Harriet Klausner