Lew Griffin was an alcoholic and private investigator. Now, he is a writer of crime fiction (mostly based on his own life) and college lecturer. It’s hard to say if he’s happy but he isn’t getting so drunk he blacks out anymore and he isn’t at risk of getting beaten up every time he leaves the house so it isn’t all bad. He has an on-off relationship that he can’t commit to and a home in New Orleans he can retreat into, hiding from the world and a lot of not so great memories, including an unhappy childhood and a missing son.
Then, he gets a knock on the door. The husband of his ex-lover and best friend, who died recently, is asking for help. The lover, it seems, had a daughter – Alouette – by her first husband, a powerful man who had stopped her seeing her child once they divorced. Thinking it was for the best, she went along with his plans…until she found out she was dying. At this point, having turned her life around, she decided to try to find Alouette. Only it was too late. The girl was missing. No one knew where she had gone but, it soon became clear, she hadn’t been doing so well before she ran away.
Feeling that he had let his lover down, he sets out to find Alouette. Along the way he finds not only the girl but something about himself as well – plus a whole lot of trouble. This is the second Lew Griffin book I’ve read (and the second in a series of books with him as the central character) and the trouble isn’t surprising. He has a way of not only finding someone willing to beat him up but of not being able to walk away when he does. I’m not sure Griffin has a death wish but he doesn’t prize his life that highly. Which is a shame because I kind of like him.
There is something very straight about him, very honest. Sallis does a great job of presenting a complex character without over complicating him (if that makes sense) and making him very human. What he does, why he does it, you can see why as you find out about his childhood and the choices he’s made as a result. You can also see how this has made him a man that doesn’t hold people to too high a standard and can help the seemingly helpless as a result.
Alouette is one of those. Most other people would have given up on her. And I think it’s fair to say, most other authors wouldn’t have made her a central figure in the book. I like that about Sallis – he doesn’t pick ordinary heros and heroines (if you can call them that). The damaged and defective are the people he writes about and makes you care for.
The way he writes (which I’m a big fan of as I’ve said before) draws you into their lives, making what happens to them much more important than the mystery. The stories become about people not a murder, or a kidnapping, or a runaway girl. The style is simple but delivers a real punch, pulling you in and leaving you feeling like you have been through the same wars as Lew Griffin by the end. Loved it!
Other James Sallis reviews:
The Long Legged Fly (Lew Griffin 1)