(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Bluebottle continues James Sallis’s series of novels exploring the life and sordid times of Lew Griffin, struggling private investigator who moves erratically along the underbelly of New Orleans’ criminal life. Readers new to the series will be continually caught off guard as the author reveals Griffin’s personality. The hero is a black man who lives with a prostitute. He is uncommonly sensitive to the pains and predicaments of others but stumbles frequently when confronted with the exigencies of his own life. His preferred crutch is a bottle of booze. Just when readers think they understand the man they are surprised by his inordinate literacy and gentle self-reflective soul, which belie his street-wise persona. Griffin is definitely not your average dark-skinned Mickey Spillane.

The story begins with the precipitous shooting of the detective as he leaves a New Orleans music club in the company of an unknown white woman. The reader is drawn into an alien atmosphere of hospital confusion with Griffin, as he awakes disoriented by amnesia and blindness. The questions that Griffin himself confronts—what has happened, what day it is, why has he been shot—are likewise troubling the one who turns the pages. Gradually the disparate pieces fall into place for both: the picture revealed is one of bigotry, murder, and a large sum of money. The underworld, the innocent, friends, and debtors are all involved.

It is fortunate that Bluebottle is brief, since it is a difficult book to put down. Sallis has uncorked a tale of intrigue and intensity that will send the reader back to the Griffin wine cellar. It is not to be missed.