Grime time

JAMES SALLIS aims to put the writing back into crime with his literary whodunnits. He has dumbfounded the critics

again with his latest novel Eye Of The Cricket.

Words: Teddy Jamieson

(.‘ritics and booksellers could soon grow to dislike James Sallis. This 54-year-old sweet-voiced American has been marked down by both types as a simple crime writer. stacked beside Dorothy Sayers in the bookstore. filed in the crime round-up feature at the bottom of the book pages.

Trouble is. Sallis doesn’t seem to want to stay there. True enough. his Lew Griffin novels. the fourth of which. lz'ye ()f The (‘riekel is about to be published by No Exit Press. feature a beaten-down black p.i. who. more often than not. is looking for the missing —— fathers. sisters. friends who have slipped into the cracks of his home town New Orleans. There is some violence. some death and some big city sickness: prime crime time. in other words.

Thing is. though. Sallis can't help messing around with the conventions. Griffin might work as a detective. but he also earns a crust as a writer and a lecturer. James Joyce and Raymond Queneau are name-dropped as much as Chandler. Mysteries can be solved in the middle of a book. the narrative has a habit of jumping around in time. from the 6()s to the ‘)()s and the detective process itself never seems that important.

live (If The ('rieket goes even further. It doesn’t just mess around with the crime cliches. it torches them.

‘I tried to write a very

At: one. pom: a. muggy.- .. was ready it) {give me has; i

James SaIIis: a crime writer with a two-pronged attack

‘II was the old Mugwump thing neither fish nor fowl. but it stank anyway.‘ says Sallis.

He persevered. and the (iriffin series has since picked up praise and prizes from both camps. 'l‘o trace Sallis‘s penchant for blurring the boundaries you have to rewind to London. I968. where. as a young 24- year-old he worked on Michael Moorcock’s seminal sci-fi magazine. New Worlds which provided a platform for genre fiction to merge with the experimental. Back then Sallis came across the two major influences on his writing life. the modern l’rench novel and American crime fiction.

‘I remember lying in my bedsitter reading every ('handler and Hammett. one book lit off the smouldering butt of the last one.‘ he says.

3 mg . 3.: it i t 5: rs e t‘

literary novel.‘ Sallis admits. ... _, g ‘5 N M When he came to write his

"l'here were enough pus“ 3&8}?! hm “:3 “3°”? E’s" 5‘5"” own novels. those two

conventions in the other readying” iir‘sii “at”? passions mated to produce

books. I‘ve tried to shuck all "the flag: 333%“. 3.5;; . one of the more idiosyncratic

those conventions away.‘ I __ a . K Q , and intriguing oeuvres in the Thc “Ii-“I”? person in liye Only then {mew ii” M “H ‘z thriller field.

()f The (‘l'lt'kt’l is (iriffin himself. Tired of bearing the freight of his soured dreams and damaged life. he himself drops down and out. It is a powerful. unpredictable tale that reeks of melancholia summed up by (iriffin himself: ‘Memory holds you down and regret and sorrow kick hell out of you.‘

All of which is apt to leave readers looking for the familiar comforts of genre fiction a little lost. But then that is nothing new for Sallis. When he touted the first Lew (iriffin book. The Long-legged Fly. nobody was interested. Crime publishers felt it was too literary. mainstream publishers thought it was a crime novel.

tomes Sallie;

92 mausr 20 Mar—2 Apr I998

It‘s a testament to the care

and craft in his work that no

one in a country as sensitive as America has ever

thought to question a 54-year-old white man writing

about the black experience. Maybe it‘s because they simply don’t know.

‘At one point a large publisher was very keen on my work and was ready to give me a big push.‘ says Sallis. ‘I think they had all the posters ready. They had me down as “the next Walter Moseley". Only then they saw my picture.’

Eye Of The Cricket is a paperback original, published by No Exit Press at £6.99.

g The write stuff

OK, so Uri Geller bends spoons, but the telekinetic has another passion

. . . writing. His latest novel is a thriller, Ella.

NAME: Uri Geller. AGE: 51. PREVIOUS JOBS: I was in the

paratroopers in the army from 1965 to 1968 and I was wounded in the Six Day War. And I've been a male model.


When I was about eleven years old, my parents took me to Cyprus and I went to a Catholic school and it was there that I stood in front of children

and told stories. I invented and

improvised fascinating stories mainly in the field of science fiction, space and time travel and so forth. That's

when it really started.

DAILY ROUTINE: I do light exercises in

the morning, then cycle in my

conservatory for about an hour and a

half which is about 40 miles in

distance. I have a special table built

on the bike where I keep my tape recorder, pens and paper and I can actually write while I cycle. In a strange way exercise inspires my imagination. Later I walk my dogs

along the Thames and again I carry a tape recorder with me and I build my stories while I walk. Then I go home and put them into my computer. Then

I spend another two and a half to

three hours in my little office writing.

INFLUENCES: James Herbert is my

biggest inspiration. I also like Harold

Robbins and Stephen King. AMBITIONS: I want to stay happy,

have peace of mind and be healthy. Materialistically, like any movie star,

singer or author, you want to

succeed, you want your book to be a

bestseller. Ridley Scott fell in love

with Ella and he took it to a major studio, so I’m keeping my fingers

crossed that it will be made into a motion picture. This would open a way for me to only write books.

FEARS: I have an uncertainty of death. I am a believer in life after

death - you have a soul and a spirit and that spirit leaves your body, but it is that step into the unknown and

beyond that I slightly fear.

INCOME: I would just say that I am fairly comfortable. (Brian Donaldson) a Ella is published by Headline at £9.99. See Book events.