Thursday, August 22, 2019

Review of Black Hornet by James Sallis (1994, No Exit Press)

Lew Griffin is drifting along in life in 1960s New Orleans. A black man in the Deep South, cobbling together jobs working for bail bondsman, doing security, acting as a private investigator. Not quite committing to Verne. Floating between bars. Never quite far from trouble. And it finds him when he’s talking to a white journalist when she’s shot dead. She’s the sixth victim of a sniper who is preying on the city’s citizens. Forming a loose alliance with a police officer and the journalist’s partner, Lew seeks to track down the sniper and make sense of his actions. In the process he wallows black literature and gets caught between different warring black communities.

Black Hornet is the third book in the Lew Griffin series set in New Orleans. In this outing, it the early 1960s and a sniper is territorizing the city, killing random strangers. Griffin is pulled into the hunt for the killer when a white journalist he is talking to is shot dead. While the plot centres on Griffin’s search for the marksman, the heart of the story is the excavation of Griffin’s character, his philosophical musings on life, and what it means to be black in the Deep South. Griffin is a man of contradictions who fears close relationships and rarely takes the easy path. He drinks to excess and has a habit of finding violence. Yet he is kind, seeks justice, has a literary bent, and is deeply reflexive. While he gets results, he doesn’t always get answers. The result is a thoughtful, existential tale told in evocative prose. There’s no great mystery to the tale, the pleasure is in its observations and telling.

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