Cover image for Ghost of a flea : a Lew Griffin novel
Ghost of a flea : a Lew Griffin novel
Sallis, James, 1944-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Walker & Co., 2001.
Physical Description:
237 pages ; 23 cm
Format :


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X Adult Fiction Popular Materials-Mystery
X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



James Sallis brings the saga of Lew Griffin--private detective, teacher, writer, poet and black man in a white man's world--to its stunning conclusion.

Author Notes

James Sallis is a poet, music critic, biographer, and author. A lifelong student of the work of Chester Himes, he lives in Phoenix, Arizona.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

"All man's problems, Pascal said, derive from the simple fact that he is unable to remain quietly alone in his room." Through five previous Lew Griffin novels, all set in New Orleans, Sallis has largely abandoned the conventions of the crime novel, allowing his brooding black hero to philosophize at will, firing literary allusions like bullets as he struggles with a melancholy streak as wide as the Mississippi. The tension in the books comes from Griffin's forays outside the quiet of his room and into the chaos of the racist world. This series finale reprises much of what has gone before and is both experimental in form (dramatic shifts in point of view and time frame come and go as suddenly as Louisiana thunderstorms) and powerful in emotional impact. Griffin's latest romantic relationship is crumbling, his son has disappeared again, and the daughter of an old friend is receiving threatening notes. Attempting to address each of these issues, Lew finds himself sorting through the detritus of his own perpetually unraveling personal life. Readers new to the series won't have a clue what's going on here, but for those who have followed Griffin on his journey through a life of unanswered questions, this unconventional conclusion to the genre's most unconventional series will strike a typically atonal but haunting chord. --Bill Ott

Publisher's Weekly Review

The enigmatic saga of the likable New Orleans private eye Lew Griffin draws to a satisfyingly convoluted closure in this sixth and final installment. Evoking a stark metaphysical landscape where time hovers on the verge of midnight and the sky is pregnant with rain, Sallis (Eye of the Cricket; Bluebottle; etc.) explores similar concerns over identity and the role of the detective as those found in Paul Auster's New York Trilogy. In what is sure to become an equally classic set of novels, he keeps it closer to the everyday with the very human exploits of Griffin and a detailed use of the streets and characters of the Delta City. But Sallis pushes the poetry of noir further than Auster and most other practitioners with such images as "another of society's makeshift facsimiles of dreams, rags and tatters of movies, media, popular literature, this new mythology, that my homeless soul had taken for its own and worn into the street." As Griffin faces his own mortality, his son is once again missing, and a cop friend is shot during a robbery; but these crime elements seem merely ornamental the big action sequence actually centers on pigeon-killers. Readers who enjoy more average PI novels may find Sallis's highly allusive style a bit much, but fans of particularly sophisticated writing will love the experience of being drawn deeper and deeper into circles of narrative complexity. Agent, the Vicky Bijur Literary Agency. (Jan. 10) FYI: Sallis is also the author of Chester Himes: A Life (Forecasts, Jan. 8). (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

This stirring series finale examines various father-and-son-like relationships. Black New Orleans private detective Lew Griffin is searching for his son, David, who has drifted away from home again; one of Lew's acquaintances, a man in a park, has been taking care of a mentally disturbed child who gets ill after the pigeons he feeds are poisoned; and Lew's comrade Don, a retired detective, takes home the teenaged robber who shot him. Meanwhile, Alouette, another acquaintance of Lew and a new mother, has been threatened at work, and police discover a mutilated body carrying David's wallet. This stimulating mix of evocative imagery, learned literate references, earthy observations, and philosophical/existential speculations mark an unusual detective's swan song. Strongly recommended for all mystery collections; Sallis is also a poet, critic, and author of Chester Himes: A Life. [Walker is also reissuing in paperback the first novel in the series, The Long-Legged Fly, currently out of print. Ed.] (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One After a while I got up and walked to the window. I felt that if I didn't say anything, if I didn't think about what had happened, didn't acknowledge it, somehow it might all be all right again. I listened to the sound of my feet on the floor, the sounds of cars and delivery vans outside, my own breath. Whatever feelings I had, had been squeezed from me. I was empty as a shoe. Empty as the body on the bed behind me.     A limb bowed and pecked at the window, bowed and pecked again. Winds were coming in across Lake Ponchartrain with pullcarts of rain in their wake. I heard music from far off but couldn't tell what it was, not even what kind. Maybe only wind caught in the building's hard throats and hollows, or the city's random noise congealing.     I seem never to learn that standing still doesn't work. There you are with a smile on your face, they won't notice me , and all the while all the things you fear keep moving towards you, their smiles a violent travesty of your own. "In your books you never write about anything that's not past, done with, gone," LaVerne had said years ago. She knew that was a way to stand still, too. And she'd been right--about that as about so much else.     Sooner or later I'd have to move. Go back out there, into the world, a world much smaller now, where it was about to rain. And where one of the coldest winters in New Orleans history, like a bit player waited impatiently in the wings, strutting and thrumming, for its cue to go on.     I'd spent my life in rooms much like this. You move, like a hermit crab, into their shell. Then in time, as old clothes and mattresses do, they begin taking on your form. Their safe, familiar walls are a second skin. You and the room become of a size and kind, indistinguishable. The room, its surfaces, its volumes, diminish when you leave; and you in turn, away from the room too long, find yourself growing restless, edgy, at loose ends.     I peered out the window, a dim image of the room behind me superimposed there like a fading photograph or one taken too soon from the developing tray, suspended half-formed, neither wholly out of the world nor quite a part of it. The window had become a universal mirror. In it everything was reversed, turned about, transformed: light bled away to darkness, walls and corners bent to obscure, indecipherable shapes, the whole of the room lumpen, autumnal.     And out there in the window-world where a moth beat against glass, a man I knew both too well and not at all stood watching. A man dark and ill-defined, with the mark of lateness, of the autumnal, upon him too.     I remembered Henry James's remark upon meeting George Gissing that he appeared to be a man "quite particularly marked out for what is called in his and my profession an unhappy ending." Gissing had deployed his creativity as the single dynamic force in a life otherwise marked by doubts and indecision, discord, disappointment, disillusion. All of which had a familiar ring to it.     I must come to some sort of conclusion, I suppose , I had written, years ago. I can't imagine what it should be.     Now I knew.     All the people we've met, all those memories and voices real or imagined, the hoarse whisper of our communal sadness, the beat of regret and sorrow in our blood, the haphazard apprehensions that have made us what we are--they're out there now in the darkness, all of them, at these silent barricades. All the people (as LaVerne used to say) we've watched disappear out the back windows of trains. LaVerne, parents, Hosie Straughter, Vicky, Baby Boy McTell. Myself. This odd man Lew Griffin who understood so much about others and so little, finally, about himself.     Another moth joins the first. Together, apart, they beat soundlessly at the window's periphery. This latecomer, a sphinx moth, has the body of a bulldog, colors like those of an oil slick in moonlight. Also called a hawkmoth. I watch the two familial insects, who could scarcely be more dissimilar, bump and bounce away from the window, skitter the length of its glass in long slides. Perhaps I should value my life more, that something else so badly wants in.     Because the volume has been increased, or because other sounds have fallen away, I can make out the music now. Charlie Patton's slurred voice and guitar, like hands that have gone into water and come out with something shapeless, something that nonetheless coheres for just a moment before it begins spilling away. Po' Boy, Long Way from Home.     A long way indeed.     Here in this still room, then, in this moment before the world returns in a rush and bears me back into it. I will tell you what I know: It is not yet midnight. It is not not raining. Excerpted from Ghost of a Flea by James Sallis. Copyright © 2001 by James Sallis. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.