Poetic, complex, and multidimensional, Sallis's insect-titled crime novels about New Orleans detective Lew Griffin are unlike any other you're likely to crack open. The main treat is also the main mystery: What is it that makes Griffin, a middle-aged African American intellectual, tick? Told by him in the first person, Cricket, number four in the series, is ostensibly about his search for several missing young people, one of whom is his son. But there is no linear progression to the investigation. Instead, as filtered through Griffin's quick, contrary, memory-obsessed mind, the story shifts, switches, leaps back and forth in time. Peppered with images of intriguing events from Griffin's past, as well as references that range from Andre Gide to Woody Woodpecker, the story takes us to a conclusion that is both rewarding and, strange for Griffin, uplifting.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The fourth book in the Lew Griffin series (following Black Hornet, 1994) proves once again that Sallis is one of the least conventional and most interesting writers working in the mystery genre. Readers who prefer plots that move straight ahead and fast may resist the spell of his talent, but those willing to untangle a twisted time line and go with the peculiar flow of Sallis's unique prose will find many rewards. "What I did here, in this extraordinary thing sitting beside me, is this: I quit trying," says Griffin, the New Orleans-based, 50-ish African American novelist, teacher and occasional detective about his new manuscript. "Quit trying to finesse the failures and forfeitures of my life into fiction.... Quit trying to force patterns, however comforting and fetching and artistic these patterns might be, onto the catch-as-catch can of what I actually lived, the rigorous disorder of my days." That's just one of many references to the act of writing that dot the book. One of the characters is named Sam Delany, a reference to the science fiction writer whose work Sallis has edited. Here, Griffin is taken up with searches for missing children: Shon, Delany's 15-year-old half-brother, who has dropped into a dangerous world of drugs; Danny Walsh, the son of Griffin's best friend, who also seems determined to destroy himself; and David, Griffin's own, long-gone son. Looking for a connection to David, Griffin sets out on a drunken quest through some of New Orleans's seediest sectors. There's not much mystery or plot resolution in this long section, but it leads up to an ending that manages to be dazzling, poignant and totally satisfying. (Nov.)
When detective-turned-novelist-turned-professor Lewis Griffin teaches Ulysses"In the Nighttown sequence all these characters and relationshipsreal, mythic, imaginaryreappear, maybe resurface is the best way to put it, in various transfigurations"you just know he's talking about the novel he's swimming through himself. Sure enough, the case that begins when the class concludesLew's search for pre-law student Sam Delany's teenaged half-brother Shonis just one more version of the Eternal Return that began when Lew went to University Hospital to identify an accident victim the staff thought might be his son David (he was carrying a copy of The Old Man, one of Lew's novels inscribed to David). But the victim, when he comes around, says he's not David; his name is Lewis Griffin, and The Old Man is one of his own novels. When confronted by a man who doubles as both his son and himself, it's no wonder that Lew, who's never met a memory he didn't grieve over or mourned a friend who didn't burn more darkly than ever in his heart, turns Shon into a surrogate son and his quest into one more search for himself. The search will be at once conclusive and anticlimactic; it's the descent into himselfas he grapples with a gang of muggers turning his New Orleans neighbors into vigilantes and his inability to give more than lip service to his teaching dutiesthat's the real story here.
Even more than Lew's first three adventures (Black Hornet, 1994, etc.), this one is an anthology of great scenes, great images, and great dialogue. Followers of Lew will know better than to expect as strong a sense of closure as the average detective story provides.