James Sallis Analysis


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

One of James Sallis’s major contributions has been his ability to combine hard-boiled and noir elements with literary-quality characterizations and elegant prose. Although often identified as mysteries, Sallis’s intensely introspective novels are only loosely plotted around some puzzle and are primarily explorations of character and the meaning of experience.

Sallis is also notable for being one of the first white authors to explore in depth the life of an African American protagonist (Lew Griffin). On occasion, Sallis has been criticized for writing so intimately of the African American experience, but he grew up in an area that was 70 percent African American and learned at firsthand about the lives of poor and rural blacks in the South. He has also made a long-term study of Chester Himes (1909-1984), the African American author of nine detective novels and an influence on Sallis’s hard-boiled fiction. In Sallis’s books, Griffin is treated neither stereotypically nor overly sympathetically, but with absolute realism as a complex, flawed individual. The character was initially modeled on the life of Himes but has developed to include aspects of many men that Sallis has known, from blues musicians to intellectuals, from family men to petty criminals.


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Duncan, Paul. “Professional Liar.” In The Long-legged Fly/Moth Omnibus Edition. Harpenden, England: No Exit Press, 2000. An in-depth interview with Sallis about his writing habits and themes.

Haut, Woody. Neon Noir: Contemporary American Crime Fiction. New York: Serpent’s Tail, 1999. Devotes an entire chapter to Sallis, covering mainly the Lew Griffin series.

Sallis, James. Gently into the Land of the Meateaters. Seattle: Black Heron Press, 2000. Essays by Sallis describe his life philosophy, his history, and his writing.

Sallis, James. The James Sallis Web Pages. http://www .jamessallis.com. Sallis’s official Web site is a very good resource with a lot of information on his life and works and numerous links to other sources.

Silet, Charles L. P. Talking Murder: Interviews with Twenty Mystery Writers. Princeton, N.J.: Ontario Review Press, 1999. Contains a Sallis interview entitled “To New Orleans with Love.” Concerns mostly his New Orleans period.