cover image The Long-Legged Fly

The Long-Legged Fly

James Sallis. Carroll & Graf Publishers, $17.95 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-88184-810-6

Poet and short story writer Sallis creates a lyrical, unconventional suspense novel that reads like variations on a blues riff. In four sections, set in 1964, 1970, 1984 and 1990, black New Orleans detective Lew Griffin moves from his feisty mid-20s to successful middle age as a writer. He carries with him the requisite burdens of the hardboiled PI--memories of his days as an Army MP, a son and an ex-wife, excessive reliance on alcohol and tobacco--and he also quotes, poetry, literature and philosophy. Although some characters appear throughout, each section of the novel is virtually self-sufficient, with Griffin trying to find a series of missing persons. He wins some and loses some: he finds a black female activist trying to pass as white; he fails to save a teenage runaway from drugs and porn films. The richest (and longest) section traces how Griffin escapes loneliness and comes to understand himself through his relationship with the British nurse he meets at a detox center; he realizes he has filled himself with bourbon and the blues for too long. In the end, he recognizes the improvisational nature of his life, ``moving closer and closer to the truth'' in the conclusion to this haunting debut novel. (Sept.)