Ghost of a Flea: A Lew Griffin Novelby James Sallis
The mystery of Lew Griffin is revealed in the concluding novel of an honored series. In his old house in uptown New Orleans, Lew Griffin is alone...or almost. His relationship with Deborah is falling apart, his son, David, has disappeared again, leaving a note that sounds final. His friend Don Walsh, who is leaving the police department, is shot interrupting a
The mystery of Lew Griffin is revealed in the concluding novel of an honored series. In his old house in uptown New Orleans, Lew Griffin is alone...or almost. His relationship with Deborah is falling apart, his son, David, has disappeared again, leaving a note that sounds final. His friend Don Walsh, who is leaving the police department, is shot interrupting a robbery. And Lew is directionless: he hasn't written anything in years; he no longer teaches...there's nothing to fill his days. Even the attempt to discover the source of threatening letters to a friend leaves him feeling rootless and lost.
Through five previous novels, James Sallis has enthralled and challenged readers as he has told the story of Lew Griffin, private detective, teacher, writer, poet, and a black man moving through time in a white man's world. And now Lew Griffin stands alone in a dark room, looking out. Behind him on the bed is a body. Wind pecks at the window. Traffic sounds drift aimlessly in. He thinks if he doesn't speak, doesn't think about what happened, somehow things will be all right again. He thinks about his own life, about the other's, about how the two of them came to be here....
In a story as much about identity as it is about crime, Sallis has held a mirror up to society and culture, while at the same time setting Lew Griffin the task of discovering who he is. As the detective stands in that dark room, the answers begin to come clear and the highly acclaimed series builds to a brilliantly constructed climax that will resonate in readers' minds long after the story is finished.
Read an Excerpt
After a while I got up and walked to the window.I felt that if I didn't say anything, if Ididn't think about what had happened, didn'tacknowledge it, somehow it might all be all rightagain. I listened to the sound of my feet on the floor,the sounds of cars and delivery vans outside, my ownbreath. Whatever feelings I had, had been squeezedfrom me. I was empty as a shoe. Empty as the body onthe bed behind me.
A limb bowed and pecked at the window, bowedand pecked again. Winds were coming in across LakePonchartrain with pullcarts of rain in their wake. Iheard music from far off but couldn't tell what it was,not even what kind. Maybe only wind caught in thebuilding's hard throats and hollows, or the city's randomnoise congealing.
I seem never to learn that standing still doesn'twork. There you are with a smile on your face, theywon't notice me, and all the while all the things youfear keep moving towards you, their smiles a violenttravesty of your own. "In your books you never writeabout anything that's not past, done with, gone," LaVernehad said years ago. She knew that was a way tostand still, too. And she'd been rightabout that asabout so much else.
Sooner or later I'd have to move. Go back outthere, into the world, a world much smaller now,where it was about to rain. And where one of the coldestwinters in New Orleans history, like a bit playerwaited impatiently in the wings, strutting and thrumming,for its cue to go on.
I'd spent my life in rooms much like this. Youmove, like a hermit crab, into their shell. Thenintime, as old clothes and mattresses do, they begin takingon your form. Their safe, familiar walls are a secondskin. You and the room become of a size and kind,indistinguishable. The room, its surfaces, its volumes,diminish when you leave; and you in turn, away fromthe room too long, find yourself growing restless,edgy, at loose ends.
I peered out the window, a dim image of the roombehind me superimposed there like a fading photographor one taken too soon from the developing tray,suspended half-formed, neither wholly out of theworld nor quite a part of it. The window had become auniversal mirror. In it everything was reversed, turnedabout, transformed: light bled away to darkness, wallsand corners bent to obscure, indecipherable shapes,the whole of the room lumpen, autumnal.
And out there in the window-world where a mothbeat against glass, a man I knew both too well and notat all stood watching. A man dark and ill-defined, withthe mark of lateness, of the autumnal, upon him too.
I remembered Henry James's remark upon meetingGeorge Gissing that he appeared to be a man"quite particularly marked out for what is called in hisand my profession an unhappy ending." Gissing haddeployed his creativity as the single dynamic force ina life otherwise marked by doubts and indecision, discord,disappointment, disillusion. All of which had afamiliar ring to it.
I must come to some sort of conclusion, I suppose, Ihad written, years ago. I can't imagine what it should be.
Now I knew.
All the people we've met, all those memories andvoices real or imagined, the hoarse whisper of ourcommunal sadness, the beat of regret and sorrow inour blood, the haphazard apprehensions that havemade us what we arethey're out there now in thedarkness, all of them, at these silent barricades. Allthe people (as LaVerne used to say) we've watcheddisappear out the back windows of trains. LaVerne,parents, Hosie Straughter, Vicky, Baby Boy McTell.Myself. This odd man Lew Griffin who understood somuch about others and so little, finally, about himself.
Another moth joins the first. Together, apart, theybeat soundlessly at the window's periphery. This latecomer,a sphinx moth, has the body of a bulldog, colorslike those of an oil slick in moonlight. Also calleda hawkmoth. I watch the two familial insects, whocould scarcely be more dissimilar, bump and bounceaway from the window, skitter the length of its glass inlong slides. Perhaps I should value my life more, thatsomething else so badly wants in.
Because the volume has been increased, or becauseother sounds have fallen away, I can make outthe music now. Charlie Patton's slurred voice and guitar,like hands that have gone into water and come outwith something shapeless, something that nonethelesscoheres for just a moment before it beginsspilling away. Po' Boy, Long Way from Home.
A long way indeed.
Here in this still room, then, in this moment beforethe world returns in a rush and bears me backinto it. I will tell you what I know: It is not yet midnight.It is not not raining.
Excerpted from Ghost of a Flea by James Sallis. Copyright © 2001 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
James Sallis is the author of more than two dozen volumes of fiction, poetry, translation, essays, and criticism, including the Lew Griffin cycle and Drive. His biography of the great crime writer Chester Himes is an acknowledged classic. Sallis lives in Phoenix, Arizona, with his wife, Karyn, and an enormous white cat.
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