Willnot by James Sallis

This book was published on 23rd June 2016 by No Exit Press. My thanks to them for the review copy.

In the woods outside the town of Willnot, the remains of several people have been discovered, unnerving the community and unsettling Dr Lamar Hale, the town's all-purpose general practitioner, surgeon and town conscience. 

At the same time, Bobby Lowndes - his military records missing, and followed by the FBI - mysteriously reappears in his hometown, at Hale's door. Over the ensuing months, the daily dramas Hale faces as he tends to his town and to his partner, Richard, collide with the inexplicable vagaries of life in Willnot. And when a gunshot aimed at Lowndes critically wounds Richard, Hale's world is truly upended. 

My Thoughts:

When I picked this book up I had never heard of the author, not realising quite how prolific he is. Now however he is an author I won't forget. This book is quite simply sublime. It is only 192 pages long and yet its brevity belies the quality and the quantity of work that is inside it. 

This book turned out not to be quite what I was expecting and yet it turned out to be so much more. If you are reading this expecting a straight forward crime and mystery you might be disappointed to start with but then will feel compelled to keep reading just like me.

A crime has taken place of course, bodies have been found in the woods and there is a couple of mysterious men knocking around. Really however this crime is almost a sideshow to the real heart of the story. This is the kind of book that is open to so many interpretations and views so I can only give you mine. 

To me it is an examination of small town USA life. It is in my opinion very allegorical. The author touches on religion, politics and the medical and teaching professions. Our main character is Dr Lamar Hale he is the town Dr, friend, peer and pillar of the local community, he lives with his partner Richard. They are both disillusioned with their professions, Richard is a teacher. Lamar is questioning his own mortality, ironic given he is a Dr and a surgeon. He is having something of an existential crisis. There are elements to his parts of the story where he is having dreams or visions or suchlike. He is such a curious character. This story is part an examination of human fears etc. 

The writing enclosed within these pages is bold and beautiful. It makes you think and it makes you care. Within such a small space James Sallis has created a glimpse at the location and cast of individual and fantastic characters all as if the reader is looking through a window. The characters all have a uniqueness but no one is more important than another. The writing is sparse and poetic. At times brutal but always honest. 

I loved it and will read more by this author. This was stunning. 

About the Author:
James Sallis has published sixteen novels, multiple collections of short stories, essays. and poems. He has written about books for the LA Times, New York Times, Washington Post, and for some years served as a books columnist for the Boston Globe. He has received a lifetime achievement award from Boucheron, the Hammett Award for literary excellence in crime writing, and the  Grand Prix de Littérature Policière. The Cannes award-winning film Drive derived from his novel of that title. Jim plays numerous intruments with his string band Three-Legged Dog and with other musicians in the Phoenix area. He stays busy. 

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