Previous reviews are at Mack Pitches Up

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Cypress Grove

Cypress Grove has a murder to be solved but the crime is almost incidental. It is a story about character, acceptance, reconciling with the past, and perhaps redemption.

Turner (no first name) was on his way to a scholarly life when the Vietnam War intervened. When he returned from war he joined the Memphis, Tennessee police department rather than restarting his education. He quickly rises to detective, enjoys the success of a high clearance rate, but never fits in, an outsider. During a domestic disturbance call he makes a split second reaction to an event and shoots and kills his partner.

He is sent to prison for three years for the killing. There he resumes his education, earns a master's degree. Just before his release, he kills another inmate in self-defense, serves more time, and earns a master's in psychology.

Out of prison he becomes a psychotherapist, mostly seeing the acutely troubled ones -- those at the edge of violence. One day Turner looks into a mirror and
I saw something I'd not seen before. It didn't last, but for the moment it was there, I recognized it for what it was. Grace, of a sort. Wherever it was I had been heading all these years, I'd arrived. I had simply to off-load cargo now.

He moves to a cabin on a lake with his books and begins a quiet, contemplative life.

One day Sheriff Bates shows up with a bottle of Wild Turkey. How Lonnie and Turner begin their relationship is a wonderful piece of writing that captures the essence of small town South:
Folks around here don't move fast. They grow up respecting other folks' homes, their land and privacy, whatever lines have been drawn, some of them invisible. Respecting the history of the place, too. They sidle up, as they say; ease into things. Maybe that's why I was there.

A body has been found, ritualistically posed. The sheriff admits that he is out of his depth with this kind of case and asks Turner to help. Turner joins the sheriff and his deputy Don Lee as a consultant and two things happen: they begin the investigation and Turner begins to integrate himself back into society.

There is much to like about this book. There is Sallis' writing. Nearly every page has a phrase, sentence, paragraph that is a gem of concise writing. Crime Scene NI says this of Ken Bruen as well which accounts for Sallis and Bruen being two of my favorite authors.

Then there is what the book doesn't contain. There isn't the testosterone laden conflict and threats between the law and the ex-con; the resentment of the deputy; the reluctance of Turner to get involved. Turner is open about his life and, in turn, the sheriff and deputy and townspeople see the kind of man he is and accept him.

The case itself is interesting and the search for background on the victim and motive for his murder well developed and intriguing but it is the development of the characters that makes this one of my favorite reads.

Highly recommended.