Saturday, 9 March 2019

One Man's Opinion: WILLNOT by JAMES SALLIS

Willnot is a town that lies out on the edge of the world. The community has its quirks and routines, all of which are unsettled by the discovery of human remains. While this is happening, a soldier returns home and the FBI are keen to find him. 

At the centre of the town is Dr Lamar Hale. He has a finger in lots of pies. His work at the hospital means that he sees everyone and has an understanding of each individual history. He has access to the bodies that have been found and has the ear of the local police chief. His partner, Richard, is a teacher who feels his way through education with his heart and manages to find hope where others would see none. And there’s a cat called Dickens. 

In terms of the plot, there’s not much I feel I can pass on. Though the main events pop up every now and then to take things forward, there’s a lot of back story and introspection on the part of the doctor. There are vignettes on healing and dying and on key families in the area and there are plenty of musings on Dr Hale’s writer father. There’s also an other-worldliness about Hale and the returning soldier. Both had episodes in their youth where they were in a coma and both seem able to disappear into a different plane whether consciously choosing to or not. 

Truth be told, I think I may have missed something with this novel. I wonder if my mind drifted away when a crucial piece of information was delivered. I know Sallis to be a fine writer and I’ve loved a number of his books. The way the literary and philosophical mingle with the crime stories is usually a plus, but in this case I think there needed to be more of a consistent crime angle to keep me hungry. Because of the meandering, I feel I lost the sense of drive (excuse the pun) and it took me longer to finish than I might have expected. 

Will I be highlighting this novel as one of Sallis’s best? The answer to that one is the title itself.  

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