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Sarah Jane

Review

Sarah Jane

James Sallis writes neither long nor often but always wonderfully. He is not a household name (though he most certainly is in my house), but if you have seen the film Drive, then you are familiar with his novel of the same name. His new book, SARAH JANE, makes mild demands of the reader but with great and haunting rewards.

The “Sarah Jane” of the title is Sarah Jane Pullman, a complex narrator whose narrative is reflective of this. She is a police officer in the town of Farr in the middle of nowhere. It is big enough to have made the transition from rural to urban, but still small enough to have only a few police officers. When the police chief mysteriously disappears, Sarah Jane reluctantly assumes the mantle of acting chief, just as her past comes butting up against her from a number of different directions. We learn about her past in bits and pieces. Think of breadcrumbs trailing backward as she moves forward in the book’s present.

"Life is a series of interactions, some fleeting, some more permanent, while others disappear but come back to affect us in various ways. They are all here in SARAH JANE."

It appears that Sarah Jane is dangerous to know, not always as a result of her actions, but there seems to be an aura about her that leads those caught within it --- including herself --- to come to bad endings. However, her own fierce loyalty inspires that in others, moving backward and forward in the time and space of the book, which is extremely fluid. Characters are introduced and then disappear (and reappear) in a similar fashion. It is a bit of an off-kilter structure for a novel, but it is as close as one might get to the real world on the printed page.

Life is a series of interactions, some fleeting, some more permanent, while others disappear but come back to affect us in various ways. They are all here in SARAH JANE. Major characters are introduced and disappear in the final third of the book before it meanders not so much to a halt as to a place that exists outside of the confines of the physical novel. One gets the sense that Sarah Jane is out there somewhere doing what she does, though perhaps a little more at peace. Perhaps.

There really aren’t many contemporary authors doing what Sallis does as he continues to write and publish his occasional novels. He makes it look easy, but when one takes a step back, particularly by rereading this book, one can see how complex it really is. The same can be said of many of his other works. One piece of good news, in addition to this publication, is that Soho Crime is reissuing all six volumes of Sallis’ groundbreaking Lew Griffin series, which belongs on the shelf of anyone who is even casually interested in private eye or crime fiction. Treat yourself to SARAH JANE and then gift yourself Lew Griffin. Both are strongly recommended.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on October 11, 2019

Sarah Jane
by James Sallis

  • Publication Date: October 1, 2019
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Hardcover: 216 pages
  • Publisher: Soho Crime
  • ISBN-10: 1641290803
  • ISBN-13: 9781641290807