Cypress Grove

Cypress Grove

2.0 20
by James Sallis

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As he has shown so often in previous novels, James Sallis is one of our great stylists and storytellers, whose deep interest in human nature is expressed in the powerful stories of men too often at odds with themselves as well as the world around them. His new novel, Cypress Grove, continues in that highly praised tradition.

The small town where Turner has


As he has shown so often in previous novels, James Sallis is one of our great stylists and storytellers, whose deep interest in human nature is expressed in the powerful stories of men too often at odds with themselves as well as the world around them. His new novel, Cypress Grove, continues in that highly praised tradition.

The small town where Turner has moved is one of America's lost places, halfway between Memphis and forever. That makes it a perfect hideaway: a place where a man can bury the past and escape the pain of human contact, where you are left alone unless you want company, where conversation only happens when there's something to say, where you can sit and watch an owl fly silently across the face of the moon. And where Turner hopes to forget that he has been a cop, a psychotherapist, and, always, an ex-con.

There is no major crime to speak of until Sheriff Lonnie Bates arrives on Turner's porch with a bottle of Wild Turkey and a problem: The body of a drifter has been found—brutally and ritualistically— murdered and Bates and his deputy need help from someone with big-city experience who appreciates the delicacy of investigating people in a small town. Thrust back into the middle of what he left behind, Turner slowly becomes reacquainted not only with the darkness he had fled, but with the unsuspected kindness of others.

Brilliantly balancing Turner's past and present lives, Cypress Grove is lyrical, moving, and filled with the sense of place and character that only our finest writers can achieve. It is proof positive that the acclaim James Sallis has enjoyed for years is richly deserved.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times
As Turner's memories are unlocked, so are his feelings -- and his language. ''It's not so much accent as rhythm that gives us away,'' he says about the lies that language can't hide. Although he went out to find a killer, Turner earns his redemption by finding his own lost voice. — Marilyn Stasio
Publishers Weekly
Turner, a homicide cop from Memphis, has retired to a cabin outside a small town in the South, but crime comes knocking in this tightly written, low-key thriller. The rural sheriff, Lonnie Bates, introduces himself over a bottle of Wild Turkey and asks for assistance in a murder case that clearly is out of his league. A drifter has been found wired up on latticework, arms ritualistically crossed above his head, a long stake driven through his heart. As he joins in the investigation, Turner meets and likes more and more of the locals, remembering how he came to this place after an on-job shooting and follow-up stint in prison. Alternating chapters build his backstory, with brilliant, disturbing vignettes of police work and scenes of surviving as an ex-cop behind bars that stand with the best in the genre. The prose, unlike other more poetic writing from the versatile Sallis, is easily accessible: "We came in from the north, onto deserted streets. Pop. 1280, a sign said. Passed Jay's Dinner with its scatter of cars and trucks outside, drugstore and hardware store gone dark, A&P, Dollar Store, Baptist church, Gulf station." With his highly regarded six-novel series about New Orleans detective Lew Griffin (The Long-Legged Fly, etc.) behind him, Sallis seems completely comfortable in this solid, lyrical and very human-scale mystery. Fans who appreciate his more quirky touches won't be disappointed, as he brings in an unexpected cult cinema angle. This one may well draw a larger readership to his work. (June 19) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Turner is a disillusioned former police officer, ex-convict, and retired psychologist who has sought to escape the realities of modern life in rural Tennessee. When local sheriff Lonnie Bates asks him to break his solitude and assist in a murder case, Turner agrees reluctantly, persuaded by his admiration for Bates and a shared bottle of Wild Turkey. The victim is a drifter whose death might have been easily dismissed had it not had ritualistic overtones and had he not been carrying mail addressed to the town's mayor. The investigation moves slowly, and many of the breaks result from chance rather than good investigative techniques, but lulls in the case allow Turner to probe his former life through flashbacks and reconcile his past with the present. Sallis is a seasoned mystery novelist (Ghost of a Flea) and biographer (Chester Himes: A Life) whose introspective style here will appeal to the soft-boiled mystery aficionado.-Thomas L. Kilpatrick, formerly with Southern Illinois Univ. Lib., Carbondale Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Sallis shines again in this offbeat tale of a dropout detective. Having put to rest his long-running, much-respected Lew Griffin series (Ghost of a Flea, 2002, etc.), Sallis, ever among the most unconventional and interesting writers of crime fiction, introduces a new protagonist who could be Griffin’s white brother. Turner (no first name), an ex-cop who’s also an ex-con--the fault not really his--has come to Cypress Grove, a backwater near Memphis, as a hermitage. He uses his spartan cabin and its minimalist furnishings--a few chairs, some kitchen utensils, a cot--to do some drinking, contemplate his navel, and not a lot else until the day the local sheriff penetrates his crippling emotional baggage. Lonnie Bates has a murder on his hands with all the unsettling aspects of a carefully staged ritual killing. The fact is, however, that any homicide would be unsettling to Sheriff Bates, and he knows it. "I’m in over my head," he tells Turner, whose case-clearing reputation has preceded him from Memphis. Reluctantly, Turner allows himself to be drafted. Eventually, he does what the sheriff needs him to, but that turns out to be almost incidental compared to what he does for himself in allowing friendship and the unexpected kindness of strangers to move him toward personal redemption. A featherweight mystery, but appealingly complex characters, and a prose style to savor.

Product Details

Walker & Company
Publication date:
John Turner Series
Product dimensions:
5.36(w) x 8.72(h) x 0.99(d)

Read an Excerpt

Cypress Grove

By James Sallis


Copyright © 2003 James Sallis
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0802733808

Chapter One

I HEARD THE JEEP a half mile off. It came up around the lake, and when it hit the bend, birds took flight. They boiled up out of the trees, straight up, then, as though heavy wind had caught them, veered abruptly, all at once, sharp right. Most of those trees had been standing forty or fifty years. Most of the birds had been around less than a year and wouldn't be around much longer. I was somewhere in between.

I watched the Jeep as it emerged from trees and the driver dropped into third for the glide down that long incline to the cabin. Afternoon light on the lake turned it to tinfoil. Not much sound. High-in-the-throat hum of the well-maintained engine. From time to time the rustle of dry leaves as wind struck them and they tried to ring like bells there on the trees.

He pulled up a few yards distant, under the pecan tree. Shells on its yield so hard you had to stomp them to get to half a spoonful of meat. I swore that squirrels left them lined up under tires for cracking and sat alongside waiting. He got out of the Jeep and stood beside it. Wearing gray work clothes from Sears, old-fashioned wide-top Wellingtons and what looked to be an expensive hat, though one that would have been more at home further south and west. He stood leaning back against the driver's door with armscrossed, looking around. Folks around here don't move fast. They grow up respecting other folks' homes, their land and privacy, whatever lines have been drawn, some of them invisible. Respecting the history of the place, too. They sidle up, as they say; ease into things. Maybe that's why I was here.

"Good afternoon," he said, final syllable turned up slightly in such a way that his utterance might be taken as observation, greeting, query.

"They all are."

He nodded. "There is that. Even the worst of them, here in God's country.... Not interrupting anything, I hope."

I shook my head.

"Good. That's good." He pushed himself off the door, turned to reach inside, came out with a paper sack. "Looks to be room for the both of us up there on that porch."

I waved him aboard. Settling into the other chair, like my own a straightback kitchen chair gone rickety and braced with crisscrosses of sisal twine, he passed across the sack.

"Brought this."

I skinned paper back to a bottle of Wild Turkey.

"Talk to Nathan, by some chance?"

My visitor nodded. "He said, as the two of us hadn't met before, it might be a good idea to bring along a little something. Grease the wheels."

Nathan'd lived in a cabin up here for sixty years or more. Step on his land, whoever you were, you'd get greeted with a volley of buckshot; that's what everyone said. But not long after I moved in, Nathan started turning up with a bottle every few weeks and we'd sit out here on the porch or, coolish days, inside by the fire, passing the bottle wordlessly back and forth till it was gone.

I went in to get glasses. Poured us both tall soldiers and handed his across. He held it up to the light, sipped, sighed.

"Been meaning to get up this way and say hello," he said. "Things keep shouldering in, though. I figured it could wait. Not like either of us was going anywhere."

That was it for some time. We sat watching squirrels climb trees and leap between them. I'd nailed an old rusted pan onto the pecan tree and kept it filled with pecans for them. From time to time one or the other of us reached out to pour a freshener. Nothing much else moved. Up here you're never far away from knowing that time's an illusion, a lie.

We were into the last couple of inches of the bottle when he spoke again.


I shook my head. "Did my share of it as a boy. I think that may have been the only thing my old man loved. Game on the table most days. Deer, rabbit, squirrel, quail and dove, be begging people to take some. He never used anything but a .22."

"Gone now?"

"When I was twelve."

"Mine too."

I went in and made coffee, heated up stew from a couple of days back. When I returned to the porch with two bowls, dark'd gone halfway up the trees and the sounds around us had changed. Insects throbbed and thrummed. Frogs down by the lake sang out with that hollow, aching sound they have.

"Coffee to follow," I told him. "Unless you want it now."

"After's fine."

We sat over our stew. I'd balanced a thick slab of bread on each bowl, for dunking. Since I'd baked the bread almost a week before and it was going hard on stale, that worked just fine. So for a time we spooned, slurped, dunked and licked. Dribbles ran down shirtfronts and chins. I took in the bowls, brought out coffee.

"Never been much inclined to pry into a man's business." Steam from the cups rose about our faces.

"Why you're here, where you're from, all that. Folks do pay me to keep track of what's going on in these parts, though. Like a lot of things in life, striking a balance's the secret to it."

Frogs had given up. Paired by now. Shut out by darkness. Resigned to spending their evening or life alone. Time for mosquitoes to take over, and they swarmed about us. I went in to replenish our coffee and, returning, told him, "No great secret to it. I was a cop. Spent eleven years in prison. Spent a few more years as a productive citizen. Then retired and came here. No reason things have to get more complicated than that."

He nodded. "Always do, though. It's in our nature."

I watched as a mosquito lit on the back of my hand, squatted a moment, and flew away. A machine, really. Uncomplicated. Designed and set in motion to perform its single function perfectly.

"Can I do something for you, Sheriff?"

He held up his cup. "Great coffee."

"Bring a pot of water to boil, take it off the fire and throw in coffee. Cover and let sit."

"That simple."

I nodded.

He took another sip and looked about. "Peaceful out here, isn't it?"

"Not really."

An owl flew by, feet and tail of its prey, a rodent of some sort, dangling.

"Tell the truth, I kind of hoped I might be able to persuade you to help me. With a murder."

Chapter Two

LIFE, SOMEONE SAID, is what happens while we're waiting around for other things to happen that never do.

Amen! as Brother Douglas would have said, hoisting his Bible like a sword and brandishing it there framed by stained-glass windows depicting the Parable of the Talents, Mary Magdalene at the tomb, the Assumption.

Back then and back home, there among kudzu in the westward cup of Crowley's Ridge and eastward levees built to keep the river out, I'd been a golden child, headed for greatness-greatness meaning only escape from that town and its mean horizons. I'd ridden the cockhorse of a scholarship down the river to New Orleans, then back up it to Chicago (following the course of jazz) where, once I had secured a fellowship, head and future pointed like twin bullets towards professordom. Then our president went surreptitiously to war and took me with him. Walking on elbows through green even greener than that I'd grown up among, I recited Chaucer, recalled Euclid, enumerated, as a means of staying awake and alert, principles of economy-and left them there behind me on the trail: spore, droppings.

No difficulty for this boy, rejoining society. I got off the plane on a Friday, in Memphis, stood outside the bus station for an hour or so without going inside, then left. Never made it home. Found a cheap hotel. Monday I walked halfway across the city to the PD and filled out an application. Why the PD? After all these years, I can't remember any particular train of thought that led me there. I'd spent two and a half years getting shot at. Maybe I figured that was qualification enough.

Weeks later, instead of walking on elbows, I was sitting in a Ford that swayed and bucked like a son of a bitch, cylinders banging the whole time. Still making my way through the wilderness, though. If anything, the city was a stranger, more alien place to me than the jungle had been. Officer Billy Nabors was driving. He had breath that would peel paint and paper off walls and singe the pinfeathers off chickens.

"What I need you to do," he said, "is just shut the fuck up and sit there and keep your eyes open. Till I tell you to do something else, that's all I need you to do."

He hauled the beast down Jefferson towards Washington Bottoms, over a spectacular collection of potholes and into what appeared to be either a long-abandoned warehouse district or the set for some postwar science fiction epic. We pulled up alongside the only visible life forms hereabouts, all of them hovering about a Spur station advertising "Best Barbecue." A four-floor apartment house across the street had fallen into itself and a young woman sat on the curb outside staring at her shoes, strings of saliva snarling slowly down a black T-shirt reading ATEFUL DE D. A huge rotting wooden tooth hung outside the onetime dentist's office to the right. The empty lot to the left had grown a fine crop of treadbare auto tires, bags of garbage, bits and pieces of shopping carts, bicycles and plastic coolers, jagged chunks of brick and cinder block.

Nabors had the special on a kaiser roll, Fritos and a 20-ounce coffee. I copied the coffee, passed on the rest. Hell, I could live for a week off what he spilled down his shirt-front. But that day his shirt was destined to stay clean a while longer, because, once we'd settled back in the squad and he started unwrapping, we got a call. Disturbance of the peace, Magnolia Arms, apartment 24.

He drove us twelve blocks to a place that looked pretty much like the one we'd left.

"Gotta be your first DP, right?"

I nodded.

"Shit." He looked down at his wrapped barbeque. Grease crept out slowly onto the dash. "You sit here. Anything looks out of whack, you hear anything, you call in Officer Needs Assistance. Don't think about it, don't try to figure it out, just hit the fuckin' button. You got that?"

"Gee, I'm not sure, Cap'n. You know how I is."

Nabors rolled his eyes. "What the fuck'd I do? Just what the fuck'd I do?"

Opening the door, he pulled himself out and struggled up plank-and-pipe stairs. I watched him make his way along the second tier. Intent, focused. I reached over and got his fucking sandwich and threw it out the window. He knocked at 24. Stood there a moment talking, then went in. The door closed.

The door closed, and nothing else happened. There were lights on inside. Nothing else happened for a long time. I got out of the squad, went around to the back. Following some revisionist ordinance, a cheap, ill-fitting fire escape had been tacked on. I pulled at the rung, saw landings go swaying above, bolts about to let go. Started up, thinking about all those movies with suspension bridges.

I'd made it to the window of 24 and was reaching to try it when a gunshot brought me around. I kicked the window in and went after it.

Through the bathroom door I saw Nabors on the floor. No idea how badly he might have been hurt. Gun dangling, a young Hispanic stood over him. He looked up at me, nose running, eyes blank as two halves of a pecan shell. Like guys too long in country that had just shut down, because that was the only way they could make it.

I shot him.

It all happened in maybe twenty seconds, and for years afterward, in memory, I'd count it out, one thousand, two thousand.... At the time, it seemed to go on forever, especially that last moment, with him sitting there slumped against the wall and me standing with my S&W .38 still extended. Right hand only, not the officially taught and approved grip, never sighting but firing by instinct, how I'd learned to shoot back home and the only way that ever worked for me.

I'd hit him an inch or so off the center of his chest. For a moment as I bent above him, there was a whistling sound and frothy blood bubbling up out of the amazingly small wound, before everything stopped. He had three crucifixes looped around his neck, a tattoo of barbed wire beneath.

Nabors lay there lamenting the loss of his barbeque. Man like him, that's the note he should go out on. But he wasn't going out, not this time. I picked up the phone and called in Officer Down and location. Only then did it occur to me that I hadn't cleared the rest of the apartment.

Not much rest to clear, as it happened. A reeking bathroom, a hallway with indoor-outdoor carpeting frayed like buckskin at the edges. Boxes sat everywhere, most of them unpacked, others torn open and dug through, contents spilling half out. The girl was in the back bedroom, in a closet, arms lashed to the crossbar, feet looped about with clothesline threaded into stacked cinder blocks. Her breasts hung sadly, blood trickled down her thighs, and her eyes were bright. She was fourteen.

Chapter Three

"I'M IN OVER MY HEAD," Sheriff Bates said. "You came up around here, right?"

"Close enough."

"Then you know how it is."

We were in his Jeep, heading back towards town. Dirt roads pitted as a teenager's face. Now we turned out of the trees onto worn blacktop. The radio mounted beneath his dash crackled.

"Weekends, we break up bar fights, haul in drunk drivers. Maybe kids pay someone to buy them a case of beer and party till they get to be a nuisance, or some guy down on his luck climbs in a window and comes back out with a pillowcase full of flatware, prescription drugs, a laptop or TV. Not like there's much anywhere he can go with it. Once in a blue moon a husband slaps his wife down once too often, gets a butcher knife planted in his shoulder or a frypan laid up alongside his head."

The radio crackled again. Didn't sound to me any different from previous crackles, but Bates picked up the mike. "I'm on my way in."

"Ten-four." Guy at the other end loved those vowels, rolled them around in his mouth like marbles.

Bates hung the mike back on its stirrup.

"Don Lee. You'll be meeting him here shortly. Eager to get home to his six-pack and his new wife, most likely in that order. What time's it got to be, anyway?"

"Little after eight."

"My month to cover nights. Natural order of things, Don Lee'd be gone hours ago. Lisa'd have had his meat and potatoes on the table, he'd be on the couch and his second beer while she washed up. But long as I'm out of pocket, he's stuck there."

Bates hauled the Jeep hard right and we skidded out onto what passes for a highway around here, picking up speed. Almost immediately, though, he geared down, braked.

"You need help there, Ida?"

A saddle-oxford Buick, cream over blue, vintage circa '48, sat steaming in the right lane. An elderly woman all in white, vintage a couple of decades prior, stood alongside. She wore a hat that made you want to hide Easter eggs in it.

"Course not.


Excerpted from Cypress Grove by James Sallis Copyright © 2003 by James Sallis
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Meet the Author

A writer of varied talents, James Sallis is a published poet, critic, translator, and novelist. He has been praised as "a fine talent, introspective, sardonic, a master of quick characterization and narrative compression" (Buffalo News) and as "a rare find…a fine prose stylist with an interest in moral struggle and a gift for the lacerating evocation of loss" (Newsday).

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Cypress Grove 2.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 20 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Ex-cop, ex-con, ex-therapist Turner thinks he's hidden himself away in an isolated cabin in a rural area of Tennessee. He appears to have succeeded, until Lonnie Bates, the local sheriff, arrives on his doorstep. Now you would suppose that the sheriff wants to check up on Turner, maybe to warn him to walk the straight and narrow. But, no, the sheriff comes to ask his help in solving an unusual and ritualistic murder. Back and forth we go through the pieces of Turner's life, building a picture of his past, while he puts together the pieces of the crime. In the process, we watch as he becomes re-engaged with life and other people. Recommended.
Labayou More than 1 year ago
The story is good enough, the characters are dry and sort of 2 dimensional. Good enough read. I want to add that the Barnes & Noble ebook is so very poorly transcribed as to affect the reader's experience. I have never seen a more poorly typed ebook. Sometimes there are numbers instead of punctuation. Sometimes whole words are missing and sometimes letters are missing from words. It messes with the flow of the story. I am not rating the transcription, only the story, to which I give 3 stars. If you want to read it, get it elsewhere. This B&N copy is messed up, even at 1.99.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
the book was a mess, It has missed spelled words, words left out except for one letter, and completely turned me off.  It could have been a good book, but characters were dull.   The  proof reader should have caught the mistakes.   Turner 's life was very interesting, but got  I would rate it one star tired of the jumping from pass to present .  .  I found it just plain boring.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I think it's a good book, but the translation to e-book left out so many words and used funky symbols that it is impossible to comprehend. am giving up. Very disappointed.
diana60yranserfon More than 1 year ago
I like this type of mystery and will read other books by this author.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Though the story line was good it was disjointed and hard to follow. It was also filled with typos and misspelled words. This was very distracting.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Boring, not recommended.
Dwgrnwll More than 1 year ago
I would appreciate a corrected copy. The storyline was quite good, bye editing horrid.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Had a lot of possibilties but the typos and misspellings sort of ruined it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The plot is great, but be aware that the editing is a train wreck! There are some pages that are nearly impossible to read without giving it some serious translating
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I started this daily find hoping to have found another good author, unfortunately, whilst he may be, it was impossible for me to tell due to the huge number of typo's, many of which required a guess to dicipher - ie spellings were only a small part of the problem. I made the mistake of purchasing directly as the summary sounded good, however even at $1.99 it was a disappointing waste of money. Think the editor & publisher must be dyslexic & english a 3rd language.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
harstan More than 1 year ago
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.

Harriet Klausner

Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Here she goes again, ruining another book with her cliff note book report. Bn, are you ever going to do anything to this obnoxious poster and her plot spoiling posts? She needs to be banned and all her posts deleted. This pister is a menace.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This honestly is the worst book I have ever read. The character was not interesting to me in anyway, the whole book was of him telling stories that had happened in the past and not talking about the task at hand. A murder. Finished the book on the plane and that is where it sits today.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
No one buys pig in a poke who is turner?