Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Review of Moth by James Sallis (1993, No Exit Press)

Lew Griffin has lived a meandering life of unfulfilled relationships, sorrow and regrets. After years of working as a private detective, scouring the underbelly of New Orleans, he has become a novelist and university professor, transforming his past into fiction. Shortly after the death of one of his past loves her current partner asks Griffin to locate her missing daughter.  She has dropped out of school and seemingly gone on a drugs-filled bender. Griffin agrees to try and track her down, returning to his old crafts and haunts, and occasional violence he thought he’d left behind. The trail takes him out of the city and to memories of his parents and his own long-lost son.

Moth is the second book in the Lew Griffin series set in New Orleans. In this outing Griffin comes out of retirement as a private detective to track down the missing daughter of an old flame who has recently died. His journey threads him through the underbelly of the city and out into rural Louisiana. There are three real strengths to Moth. The first is the central character of Griffin, who is cloaked in a world weariness, worn down by years of operating as a PI and dealing with oppressors and victims, everyday racism, successive failed relationships sabotaged by his own unwillingness to commit, and his inability to find his missing son, yet remains compassionate and resolute. The second is philosophical observations and asides about human nature and society, as well as some nice intertextuality concerning the authorship and narrative form. The third is the prose and voice; Sallis also writes poetry and it tells in the lyrical nature of his writing.  The plot is engaging enough, tracking Griffin’s progress in locating the wayward daughter, with a second thread added near the end, though the resolution of both are rather flat. However, Moth is really a tale about Griffin himself rather than telling the story of a compelling mystery. And that focus worked fine for me as he’s an interesting character to spend time with, as is Sallis’ prose and reflections on life and society.

1 comment:

Gerard Saylor said...

I suppose Sallis is best know for the Lew Griffin novels, at least according to all the brief bios I've seen. I've read five of his other novels but no Griffen yet.