A year after the events in Cypress Grove, life for Tuner – the main character – is pretty good. He is settled, with a job as a deputy and a girlfriend (Val) who seems the perfect fit for him, a woman who wants – need – her own space as much as he does. It isn’t necessarily where he thought he would be but it seems like a good place to end up for someone who has been a policeman, convict, and psychiatrist among other things. He life is simple and he is accepted for who he is in the small southern town he has landed in.
Then, a young man is arrested for drunk driving. He has close to a quarter of a million dollars in his bag in the boot of his car. Not what you would expect to find…and neither is the jailbreak that follows, leaving the sheriff seriously injured. The trail leads Turner back to Memphis, where he was a cop and a killer, not somewhere he wants to be. Life, though, is rarely what he wants and that’s the case in Cripple Creek where things go from bad to worse for Turner.
Having read more than a few James Sallis books this isn’t a surprise. His stories tend to be quite dark, full of troubled characters and broken lives. Yet, generally, there is some light at the end of the tunnel. I didn’t find that here and I felt a little sad at the end as a result. That doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it though, I did, and I grew to like Turner as a character more than I already did. No matter how many things he might have done, in his heart he is a good person and I’d want him on my side in a fight. He is true to himself and others and his back story, woven through the book in short chapters, helps explain why he is who he is.
This way of telling his story is the same in Cypress Grove, which I think it would help to read first but isn’t absolutely necessary, and it’s one I like – as is Sallis’ sparse writing style and way of setting the scene and painting a picture of a world I don’t really know at all. Still, I feel I know Turner’s south – the good, the bad, and the gritty. I’m not sure it’s a place I would want to live but I do want to keep reading about it…