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In the woods outside the town of Willnot, the remains of several people have suddenly been discovered, unnerving the community and unsettling Hale, the town's all-purpose general practitioner, surgeon, and town conscience. At the same time, Bobby Lowndes--his military records disappeared, being followed by the FBI--mysteriously reappears in his hometown, at Hale's door. Over the ensuing months, the daily dramas Hale faces as he tends to his town and to his partner, Richard, collide with the inexplicable vagaries of life in Willnot. And when a gunshot aimed at Lowndes critically wounds Richard, Hale's world is truly upended.

178 pages, Hardcover

First published June 21, 2016

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About the author

James Sallis

169 books370 followers
James Sallis (born 21 December 1944 in Helena, Arkansas) is an American crime writer, poet and musician, best known for his series of novels featuring the character Lew Griffin and set in New Orleans, and for his 2005 novel Drive, which was adapted into a 2011 film of the same name.

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5 stars
111 (18%)
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163 (27%)
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175 (29%)
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106 (17%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 134 reviews
Profile Image for Carol.
330 reviews915 followers
July 5, 2016
James Sallis is the author of more than two dozen volumes of fiction, poetry, translation, essays, and criticism. He also is the author of Willnot, released in June of this year. Willnot is my favorite book of 2016 and I recommend it to all readers of well-written -- not grandiose -- literary fiction.

Willnot is not (primarily) a mystery or suspense novel. Forget that silly and distracting GR blurb, taken from the silly and distracting (and spoiler revealing, in one instance) dust jacket blurb. It appears as if Bloomsbury Publishing’s marketing team made the call to promote Willnot as something it isn’t, in order to take advantage of the built-in base of readers that respond to the mystery/suspense genre tag. As we all know, the problem with marketing a book as a mystery or suspense novel when it isn’t is that readers who might love it (if they only knew the truth) don’t find it, and those who read it anticipating the experience of reading a mystery or suspense novel are oft-times disappointed and write reviews that indicate something along the lines of, “the mystery didn’t work,” or “lacked suspense.” Don’t read Willnot to learn about those dead bodies and then blame Sallis for not delivering. Consider them a 3-bite appetizer, not your entree, as it were.

What is Willnot, then? Willnot is a snapshot of ordinary people figuring out who they are and how to survive.

That morning, with the office empty and all the ambition of a walnut, I stood at the window. Down at the corner, Ezra sat on a chewed-up, discolored Styrofoam cooler, not quite on Maple, not quite on Mulberry. I remembered Bobby giving him money that first day back. Our lives are so ungraspable. Turn them one way and light glints off them; turn them another, they drink up the light wanting more. We go to ground believing we’re heading one place and come up someplace else entirely.

Yesterday in the school cafeteria of a nondescript small town in Ohio, a sixteen-year old pulled a gun from his Fender Champ lunchbox and began firing, while at a restaurant just down the street an anonymous man called the waitress over and paid the check for a family of four seated nearby, two of the children with special needs.

We see Willnot – over the course of several months -through the eyes of Lamar Hale, town physician and surgeon. Lamar is in a long-term relationship with Richard, a teacher (later principal) , formerly that guy in high school who was the quarterback, first chair [name your instrument], most popular, best grades, etc.

In the town of Willnot, there are: several unidentified bodies found buried – and requiring excavation - near a gravel pit; a Sheriff with heart trouble; teens who are sufficiently bored that they start creating the appearance of filled-in holes around town mimicking the gravel pit find; several individuals waiting for surgery or recovering from surgery; an office manager; a couple worried about the health of the husband’s dad, due to a recently-developed unpleasant smell; Bobby Lowndes, a hometown boy turned Marine sniper who returns, but whose conduct is sufficiently creepy to suggest imbalance, menace or another unsettling explanation; a long-time homeless guy, known to all; an FBI agent, Ogden, seeking the sniper, who identifies him as AWOL; a 12-year old boy, Nathan, who turns in a 23-page essay (in response to an assignment to write 3 pages about where you live), and a protagonist whose father was a hack science fiction novelist. Eccentricity abounds, but it’s not cute or contrived. In a mere 192 pages, Sallis shows us all of this and more. He doesn’t tell us.

Days lumbered on, as they will. Miracles happen in the corners of lives, longings slumbered in our hearts.

and another:

As I watched him go, out of the office and along the street where he stopped to chat for a moment with Old Ezra, it came to me that, without having previously given it much thought, I liked Joel Stern. A man not easily deceived or distracted – not by growls, not by slogans or sound bites, not by white noise. Not even by the scripts running continuously in his head, by his own preconceptions.

Willnot is character-driven, not plot-driven. The relationship between Lamar and Richard anchors it. When Lamar is home with Richard, the world is a good place. A safe place. Everything outside might be going to hell in a hand-basket. Then Richard utters some amusing crack, or flirty comment, or insightful perspective. Lamar considers, responds, utters his own philosophical observation or takes Richard up on his ribald suggestion, gets the sustenance his soul needs to go out and meet the needs of his patients, his acquaintances, his hometown. Lamar and Richard are complex characters. So are all of the other inhabitants of Willnot, including Nathan. Sallis anchors his story in Lamar and Richard, in part, because their jobs put them into contact with the range of people who inhabit any small town. Doctors and teachers, along with the clerk at the two gas stations, the administrative assistant at the town’s utility payment window, and a pastor or two, are the sorts who encounter townfolk across a range of socio-economic backgrounds, and who may observe shadows of ghosts and glimpses of the baggage that accompany everyone on her life journey.

At times, a reader isn’t certain where Sallis is headed. Why is Lamar recalling his dad’s career and sci-fi-writer friends? Why are we reading a series of anecdotes about Lamar’s patients? Is Sheriff Hobbs’ heart trouble related to the dead bodies, or to Bobby Lowndes? How much attention should we pay to the FBI agent? The daily stories of Lamar’s patients and Richard’s school system career challenges seem headed toward a collision with the darkness of whatever explanation there turns out to be for the dead bodies of page 1 fame. The uncertainty the reader experiences is created deliberately by Sallis, as if to say. Question assumptions. Pay attention to details. Come along for the ride. See how much can be packed into this slim package.

John Updike wrote that while we all remain tragically alone, it’s imperative to go on making signs through the glass. The kids were doing that with their diggings. None of our attempts at communication amount to a lot more. And going on is what it’s all about. I hung up thinking about Jules Mawby the day before, and Bobby that afternoon, people who go on when it all gets to be too much. Then Ted Holmes.

Ted was Richard’s partner before me. Ted had contracted HIV but was doing well with the new generation drugs till esophageal cancer came along in its wake, early signs and symptoms initially attributed to side effects from the meds so that the cancer was well along when discovered. After months of treatment, a battery of drugs, and enough radiation that he claimed to glow in the dark at night and keep Richard awake, Ted showed up one day with a T-shirt that read I’VE HAD ENOUGH, THANK YOU, copies of which he distributed to his friends. Richard still has his. He wears it whenever things go their bleakest.

Lisa Levy asks in her article in LitHub:

Why aren’t we talking about James Sallis? In fact, why aren’t we talking about Sallis (b. 1944) alongside his American contemporary paranoids and peers, Don DeLillo (b.1936) and Thomas Pynchon (b. 1937)? His themes are similar to the big two: making sense of the world, and finding our place in it; chronicling the perils of intimacy; thinking about whether we can really know ourselves, or anyone else. Each book is its own world, which Sallis is quite conscious about, though the novels are often barely 200 pages. Sallis is quietly and steadily writing way above his weight class (and on the side, he plays a mean guitar). Or maybe he’s just our anti-Knausgaard, interested in the telling detail but not the whole exhaustive story (I’m mesmerized by the memory of a cockroach crawling over a sink in The Killer is Dying). And certainly not five volumes of it.

Levy is spot-on. We aren’t talking about Sallis. We should be, though. Willnot is an excellent launching pad for everyone who hasn’t yet read one of Sallis’ novels. Then let’s collaborate to give him the buzz his work dearly merits.

p.s. Willnot is also one of the best Southern novels I’ve read . No, neither the town nor Sallis have Southern ties of which I’m aware. But one thing I believe. Somewhere in heaven, Walker Percy and Shelby Foote are talking about Willnot whilst sharing their favorite beverages.
Links of interest:
Levy’s article: http://lithub.com/american-noir-and-t...
A 2014 interview with Sallis by Roger Godwin:
Sallis’ own website:

Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,782 reviews14.2k followers
July 9, 2016
4+ Sallis has the enviable knack of creating characters that are very hard to forget and Dr. Lamar Lamar Hale now joins this prestigious group. A man who administers daily to the citizens of Willnot and goes home to his partner, Richard, a school teacher who during the time period of this novel, will become acting principal. Their cat, Dickens, is an important character in his own right. Sallis is an observer of the human condition and that is what he does in this novel. When bodies are found, he observes the changes this causes in this town, but this is far from a mystery, it is instead a chronicle of the changes this discovery causes. A young man, a marine who was once in a coma and a patient of Dr. Hales makes an appearance trailed by the FBI. But it the day to day interactions between Dr. Hale, the sheriff and Richard with each other and others in town that provide the meat in this story.

This is not a hold your breath suspense story but it is a story whose written words were so right, so eloquent that I had to stop and reread. Characters that I did not want to leave at book's end. A book that is all Sallis, who at his age, he is in his eighties, still manages to continually produce memorable stories.
Profile Image for Karl.
3,258 reviews277 followers
June 28, 2016
James Sallis’s new book “Willnot” starts with a great bang, a bewildering mass grave is found near town that must be excavated. It’s impossible to tell just how many bodies have been found, who they were, and how they got there. Dr. Lamar Hale, the town's all purpose general practitioner, surgeon, becomes the point of view character of this novel.

We see small town rural life through Dr. Hale’s eyes. We learn of his interactions with many of the town’s residents, and we also learn of his personal life and his thoughts and background as many of his friends and patients wander in and out of the narrative of this story.

This is a wonderfully touching story, what probably could be called a love story of rural American life. Filled with eccentric characters, multiple intriguing subplots and a story that will grab the reader and just not let go.

This may be the best story Mr. Sallis has ever published.

Highly recommended. Five stars are just not enough.

This copy of "Willnot" is signed by James Sallis.
Profile Image for Diane Barnes.
1,301 reviews450 followers
July 8, 2016
Let me start with a warning: This is NOT a crime novel, this is NOT a mystery novel, and if that's what you want or expect, then you're sure to be disappointed.

Now that that's out of the way, let me tell you what it is. There are mysteries here, but most of them are the unsolvable ones of the human heart, and of life itself. What is Willnot, and how did it get it's name? We're never told. Where is Willnot? We're never told. Is it even a real place? Decide that one for yourself. The people there are just like you and me, fighting daily battles, trying to do our jobs, trying to make it, one day at a time. Most of those people are tended by Dr. Lamar Hale, seeing them in his office, occasionally operating on them as needed, making his rounds. His partner is a teacher in the local school, and between them, they know most of what's going on in town. That's as far as I can go with the plot, because there isn't more. Some mysterious bones in a mass grave in the woods, some mysterious people in town, you'll have to figure out for yourselves how they fit in.

This is my idea of a great book. I will remember the humor and witty dialogue, the great characters, even the ones who appear in Dr. Hale's office for just a few minutes. And Dr. Hale and his partner Richard make a great pair. I hope this is just the first of many books about them. I love books that make you read between the lines, and this one goes even farther. It made me think, made me ponder, and left me questioning some things I thought I was sure of.

Thank you, Carol, for your wonderful review that led me to this book.
Profile Image for Jeanette.
3,397 reviews583 followers
July 8, 2016
After reading this book, I want to rush out and get me a thriller, some magic, a real mystery- anything with verve. Because this just laid down and simpered philosophy at the same time. Absolutely not my cuppa.

It rambles. And it is odd. If you like odd, you might like it. Odd both in tone and in its continuity. There were pages I had to reread. Conversations between characters just introduced or added in asides? I feel I got to know Dickens, the cat, better than the "wise" protagonists of the story line. Nothing, other than the chronological, seems to have a beginning, middle, end as to progression for a plot. If that sentence seems a dichotomy- it fits this book in parallel. Not for me to enjoy any of this sad sack story. It's closer to a cold case, never closed- so you get little resolution on top of it.

Actually, I was confused about the location too until I was well into the book. Desert- but where? South, West USA? Willnot has odd and quirky characters too. Many. Lots of them will never be confused with rocket scientists, at that.

At times during this read, I wanted to quit. Because the stream of consciousness minutia either became preachy, dreamy, or just plain dull to boredom. Like descriptions of mockingbirds who are dying, beakless and have been hit by golf balls on a drive.

If you want different, jumpy and impressionism style to plot structures or continuity, with a touch of homey down home talk added now and again- you'll find it here.

There used to be a misery/ nursery room chant when I was very young (sung when people were observed to be giving themselves a private pity party) and it came to mind just as I finished the last pages of this book. It's the overall tone that did it, not just one factor of the book, but the book as a whole.

"Nobody likes me. Everybody hates me. I think I'll go out and eat worms."- set to music- that nursery song -

Profile Image for Paul.
888 reviews71 followers
July 8, 2016
Willnot – Classic Sallis

James Sallis has once again written a classic, and to my mind one his best, Willnot will be as popular as all his other novels and stories. Not quite a literary crime novel more the story of a middle aged doctor, in small town America, who is trying to come to terms with his own mortality.

Willnot is a small town that is full of eccentrics who are aware that they are just ‘visiting’ and that life goes on. Dr Lamar Hale is the local doctor, knows everyone’s aches and pains. The pace of life changes when several bodies are discovered just outside the town, and the local town found all this disconcerting.

At the same time, Bobby Lowndes, reappears after years away, a marine come home to visit, is being followed by the FBI. Over the following months we see life in this small time through the eyes of Hale, as he and his partner Richard act as the town conscience.

Throughout the book you get the feel for the day to day life of what it must be like to be a doctor not only in practice but always having to act as the local surgeon. Hale is the antidote to his partner Richard who as a teacher, is always philosophising about life in general. We would say that Hale and Richard are married in every sense of the word, but at the same time there is no preaching, people just accept them for who they are.

This is a beautifully written book with wonderfully drawn characters, there are depths to them, which makes this such a pleasant read. As the events unfold there is some tension which aids the noir twist, but you still get the feeling that whatever happens, life just goes on.

This is a classic James Sallis story, which is well written and takes you to another place a brilliant piece of escapism. Willnot might be short, but it packs a punch many weightier books fail to deliver.
Profile Image for Sharon.
1,252 reviews16 followers
April 21, 2016
From the blurb, I was expecting the usual cop drama. What a pleasant surprise to find a gentler story with much character development instead. I simply sat and read from beginning to end without stopping. I suspect I will read it again in a year and find nuances that I missed on the first read.
Profile Image for Roberto.
Author 2 books103 followers
June 16, 2016
Sallis is one of the greats. No question. He doesn't do genre tropes and as a result Willnot is totally unique. You think it's going to be a crime thriller, whatever that means, some kind of small-town, back-woods deal where harmless lil' Tootsie the waitress turns out to be a stabby psycho because of that thing that happened all those years ago. But what is it? It feels new. It is warm, sweet, quietly profound without being pretentious, mysterious without resorting to mystery cliches, and it is obviously brilliant. Sallis doesn't patronise us, he gives us characters that you can see, Lamar and Richard's relationship is just so adorbz and heartwarming, and you get writing that manages to be carefully-crafted yet somehow feels loose, intellectual, firmly rooted in real lives, real fears. I think this would repay re-reading, it's just one of those books that you'll keep finding stuff you missed the first time. You guys need to read this.
Profile Image for Nehirin~.
100 reviews30 followers
October 16, 2018
Tavsiye etmiyorum. Hikâye ya da başka unsurlardan kaynaklı ama fikir belirtmek istemiyorum. Yavan, tatsız-tuzsuz.
Profile Image for Charles.
Author 40 books262 followers
May 2, 2020
A character driven story of great intensity. Sallis's voice is so smooth and powerful that you cannot look away. It really hits you between the eyes with a barrage of empathy, melancholy, joy, longing, and every other rich experience we are capable of. Loved it.
Profile Image for Kathy Martin.
3,508 reviews79 followers
April 24, 2018
Dr. Lamar Hale is a general practitioner and surgeon in the small town of Willnot - home to a variety of eccentrics. Lamar knows all the secrets and accepts everyone for who they are. When a gravesite containing a number of remains is discovered, the town and Lamar are unnerved. The return of Bobbly Lowndes from the Marines also is unsettling. Lamar has known him since he was a child. Then the FBI comes looking for Bobby.

While all these things are happening, Lamar goes about his daily business taking care of the people in the town and just living life with his partner Richard. Lamar's father was an author who hung around with many of the stars of the 50s and 60s and Lamar shares stories about them with Richard. I liked some of the stories about authors I grew up reading.

This was an engaging story but very literary and quite the opposite of action-packed. It was a thoughtful of about a year in Lamar and Richard's life. The beginning mystery of the discovered bodies was never resolved. Neither was Bobby's story.

Read this one for the language and descriptions and the relationships within the town and with Lamar.
Profile Image for Pamela.
1,063 reviews11 followers
July 25, 2016
The best book I've read this year, from one of the best American writers. Subtle and beautiful writing, very real characters you understand (and like) after just a few pages, a well drawn setting... Perfect!
Profile Image for Carol.
375 reviews6 followers
September 10, 2016
I started this book knowing nothing about it. I was trying to listen to the audio, but eventually had to pull out the written book and reread parts at several times during the audio just to keep straight what was happening. The conclusion is: nothing
Profile Image for Tom.
333 reviews6 followers
January 1, 2017
Life goes on, with or without having a point.
Profile Image for Gillik.
121 reviews7 followers
March 21, 2017
The thing about ratings on this site is I often feel less antipathy towards a one-star book than towards a two-star. With a few exceptions (Catcher in the Rye is bad and should feel bad) most of my one-stars were books I didn't bother to finish, boring or confusing, in a couple instances objectively important works that I was never going to be able to properly appreciate, myself (Only Revolutions, for one). When you drop a boring book halfway through you throw up the one star, sell the book for five cents at the Strand and forget all about it. Bad writing galls when you find it in a bestseller, but on its own it's just, well, bad writing. Forgettable. You move on.

But a two-star novel - this two-star novel in particular - is maddening because it came so close! to being not just a decent novel but a really, really good novel. Willnot's writing is master-class, its characterization unique and its setting clever. It's threaded tight with interesting plot points: a pit full of bodies, a man who may or may not be an AWOL marine, an FBI agent who may or may not have gone rogue - a doctor who may or may not be able to jump into the minds of the dying!?

But at 178 pages Willnot isn't a novel, it's an outline. Look, I admit to bias - I write long and prefer to read longer fiction. But not one of those plot points mentioned above has time to mature in under 200 pages, much less all of them. The oddness of Willnot, a town sort of out of time where all manner of stranger and weirdo might be welcome, is well-developed. And I disagree with other reviewers that all the asides about the patients Dr. Lamar Hale treats are rambling and pointless. I think they set up the eerie, charming-but-something's-a-tad-OFF-here-don't-you-think, atmosphere well. But, because of length, that's all they do. There isn't room for anything else.

That pit of bodies? Who knows what that's about, because the novel never gets back to it. Why is Bobbie being tracked by a bunch of snipers (who are all supposed to be good shots but also keep missing him in increasingly dramatic fashion)? What was up with Ogden leaving and then returning to the FBI in two pages? And, really, the book's cardinal sin - that bit the blurb mentions, about Richard being shot? Happens on page 172. Of 178. That's not a blurb, that's a plot summary! And at the most exciting part of the novel, then the book time-skips.

Dr. Hale and Richard were great characters on their own and together. They had fantastic chemistry and a great cat (Dickens ranks up there with the best in feline literary characters, I think). I also really loved how casually they were a couple, how Willnot accepts without controversy - a modern day detective story. So why cut the reader off with so little? Maybe if the novel had been marketed as a 'day in the life' sort of thing it would be more understandable, but it was marketed as a mystery-crime thriller and it wants to be a mystery-crime thriller - all the ingredients are there, attempted murder and strange behavior and a tinge of magical realism and characters who wander off ne'er to be seen again and a pit full of bodies - so why wasn't it allowed to be a mystery-crime thriller? A full-fledged story, not a character sketch? I'm saying this and I don't even like mystery-thrillers!

One of the running themes is that we can't know everything, or fix everything, so at some point you have to sit back and accept. That works for Dr. Hale's doctoring, it doesn't work so well for the reader, who would like at least one of four major plot points resolved. Leave the pit of bodies as an open-ended "there are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio," but explain more about Bobbie. Or let Bobbie be a ghost, a thing to chase after but never catch or understand, but explain the bodies and the FBI. This isn't an author going for open-ended, it's an author who forgot to finish the ending before the editor collected the rough draft.

It's frustrating because with another hundred or two hundred pages, I think this would be one of my favorite novels. I love Dr. Hale's watchful, laid-back eye on things. The sheriff and the ambulance driver made for great secondary characters. Richard and Dickens were A-Team. And the writing is just plain great. "My grandfather, my father's father, was a carpenter. He used to tell me how he'd find old pennies left under windowsills by the original builders. They were left to date the construction - handshakes sent across the years. We find, or conjure, what continuity we can."

But that's not enough, and it'll bother me forever - more than any one-star book has ever bothered me (except for Catcher, screw Catcher) - how great Willnot could be with just another hundred pages. Just a little more length. Don't instantly sap the rush and tension of Richard being shot - potential character death is the best kind of tension!

It's a two-star novel that could have been a five-star novel if it hadn't skimped on the story. And that sucks.
Profile Image for Sian Lile-Pastore.
1,231 reviews154 followers
February 19, 2017
I had to read about fifty pages before I had any idea of what was going on here - nothing made sense and I had no idea who anyone was or what their relationships were to each other. After that I kinda got it together and more or less followed what was happening - but it's the strangest paced novel I've read in a while - nothing is explained or resolved, and there is barely a plot. The main character is a doctor, so there's just lots about his day to day life, his partner who is a teacher and their cat Dickens who says 'prrrup'. I was concerned that everyone seemed to have bad clothes and there was barely a good cup of coffee to be found.

And it's great! There's a sweet relationship, some nice stuff about the father being a writer, and just kinda gentle everyday life with a backdrop of crime, illness and sometimes death. Sorta profound.
Profile Image for Cateline.
297 reviews
July 13, 2016
Willnot by James Sallis 5+/5

It's been awhile since I've read any of Sallis's books. /sigh/ Silly me. There is a wonderful, mellow flow to his writing that, in a way, reminds me of Nabokov. Yes, but no. Sallis has a dead-center way of looking at life, and describing it in an off hand manner whose profundity just suddenly pops you in the back of the head. The reader is forced to go back and reread the last page or two just for the immediate pleasure of reliving those thoughts.

The plot is deceptively simple. Small town, hometown doctor, several bodies found in the woods, mysterious comings and goings all assemble and then.....disassemble. Readers that need definite resolutions to their stories will be somewhat disappointed, I believe. But, for the pleasure of the journey, it's totally worth it.

Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Peg.
559 reviews
August 2, 2016
I have been a fan of James Sallis since I found his Lew Griffin series. I was thrilled to find a new book by him. This one is a dandy. It is set in a small town called Willnot - filled with misfits, transits, oddities, etc. Characters abound. It is also sprinkled with many bon mots along the way.
Profile Image for Lesley.
1,808 reviews11 followers
February 8, 2017
Beautifully written with vivid and intriguing characters, Willnot is a look at the variety and intricacies of life through the eyes of a rural doctor. With musings on mortality, military service, finding your place in the world and much more this book, despite it's small size is thought provoking and impacting.
Profile Image for Selen Isyar.
45 reviews1 follower
June 4, 2019
The book may be good; an easy reading with many details and people all in a small town.
However the book was so poorly translated that it is a shame on the publisher's part.
I will send them an email with examples however it is a loss on business for them for such a productive writer is wasted.
22 reviews
July 18, 2016
I am writing this after receiving a copy of Willnot from RealReaders in return for an honest review.
I previously read ‘Drive’ by this author and really couldn’t see what all the fuss was about; not for me, James Sallis, I thought. How wrong.

Willnot is a very short book, described as a Mystery, or a Crime, story; for me, it is both and yet neither, it defies categorisation. In truth, it is simply the musings of an elderly American small-town doctor as he goes about his daily life.

The story starts with the discovery of the remains of several people, in the woods outside the town of Willnot. As far as a ‘Crime’ book, or a ‘Mystery’ book goes, you would think so far so good. But this turns out to be a sideline to the story, in truth a non-event. The reader meets Dr Lamar Hale as he visits the scene of the discovery, and then follows him day by day over the course of a few months as another mystery unfolds - also rather undefined, but much more personal to Dr Hale. Overtime, we meet Dr. Hale’s partner Richard, and many other inhabitants of this American backwater, many of them eccentrics, all of them important in the telling of the tale. Dr. Hale is the town’s physician, surgeon, counsellor and friend and his connection to each of them is plain

Frankly, the story goes nowhere - but I simply couldn’t stop reading it. One of the most important things for me when reading fiction is that I ‘like’ at least the main character in the story, if not more. In Dr Hale, Richard his partner, and all the other characters, I met people I would love to live with, to spend more time with, to have as friends. They are beautifully crafted, yet the writing is spare and concise, with not a single wasted word.

This was a book that I really didn’t want to end. I wish it had been longer. It has encouraged me to try another Sallis book, another time, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.
30 reviews2 followers
July 16, 2016
Willnot by James Sallis
New to Sallis? No better place to start than 'Willnot', his latest literary crime novel. Difficult to categorise because it is a rich and complex study of middle America town life in the modern world and a noir thriller with a slow creeping burn.
'Willnot' town doctor Lamar Hale narrates and the story opens with the uncovering of a burial pit in the woods outside town - the remains of several dead bodies. Apparent stranger Brandon 'Bobby' Lowndes turns up in Hale's office at the same time, he knows Hale who treated him as a child. FBI Agent Ogden is on the hunt for Lowndes, a man with an ambiguous military background - is he AWOL? Why did he come back? And why is someone trying to kill him? 'Bobby' Lowndes surfaces at will around town and yet the FBI and the press seem to be chasing a ghost. Hale becomes involved with the interlopers and wrapped up in events as a sense of foreboding and tragedy looms, eventually engulfing Hale's partner, Richard.
Yet Hale is a keen observer of life; people, their anxieties, their secrets and medical needs. Sallis creates characters and personal stories that stay with you. This is a counterpoint to the unfolding crime story.
I like the was way Sallis writes, the philosophical musings that sit so well in the tale. The clever ability to blend old and modern and write about the familiar in an original and thought provoking way.
If this gives you a taste for Sallis there are several stand alone novels published by No Exit Press. My own favourites are the New Orleans P.I. Lew Griffin series (7 in total), a great slab of American life.
Profile Image for Lesley.
414 reviews17 followers
October 1, 2016
I was quite intrigued when I was sent another James Sallis book to review as I'm still rather in two minds about the last one! What can I say about this book? What did I honestly think?
Well firstly I really couldn't get to grips with how the book was written. It's quite loose and rambling in style and I found that at times, in fact quite often, I really had to think about what had just happened or what had been said, or even re-read a section to actually get a handle on it! It's not really a crime/mystery/thriller story, it's more a sort of collection of musings/journal by the protagonist Lamar Hale, on his life and the people that live, work and pass through the town of Willnot. When I reached the end of the book I actually found that I had rather enjoyed it but also that I felt that I had somehow not done it justice.
The book has such a wonderful use of language that I began to feel I had missed out by taking so long to get into the rhythm of the prose. The day after I finished the book (which is quite slight) I made the quite remarkable decision to read it again straight away! This time, because I had already settled into and accepted the style of writing, I found I was able to immerse myself in it totally and really enjoy James Sallis' unique voice. I intend to revisit the previous book (Others of My Kind) to see if my initial view has changed since reading Willnot and will definitely be reading more James Sallis in the future.
530 reviews6 followers
June 12, 2017
Once again Real Readers have provided another book by yet another new author for me to read and review.
Yes I am ashamed to admit never having previously read a James Sallis book.
The Willnot of the title is a small backwoods, slightly gone to seed American town, where our hero and main character is General Practitioner, Surgeon, counsellor, confident and collector of all types of waifs and strays.
It’s impossible not too like, no love the main character, every small town should have this kind of Doctor, especially one as full of eccentrics as this one.
The story opens with the discovery in the woods on the outskirts of town, of a pit full of an indeterminate number of human remains, an interesting start to what will no doubt prove to be an intriguing murder mystery thriller.
Wrong, I would not describe this little book of 192 pages as either, the bodies in the woods, and even the return of mysterious former resident known to our hero, and of interest to the FBI prove to be almost sidelines in this delightful book that I simply could not put down.
The writing is clear clever concise and always descriptive, characterisations vivid, and there are a number of unanswered questions left open at the end, however I have no problem recommending this entertaining quirky book.

Profile Image for Marc Rokoff.
Author 1 book
August 31, 2016
The truth is, I am only giving this book three and a half stars but I rounded up because the writing is so wonderful and the characters feel so real. The prose is crisp, even daring to the point of experimental at times. Like a really spicy meal, I both loved that quality and felt irritated by it!

Ultimately, Willnot lost half a star because the ending didn't have much of a payoff for me. It loses another star for metaphors and dialogue that I could not follow. I didn't understand whole paragraphs in this book. Examples include dialogue that could have used more attribution or desperately needed quotes (quotes - as in, for dialogue!) that were simply not used. I admire the author's creativity in breaking the rules but the result lost me more often than not. Finally, when I didn't know if he was talking about a real baby or a lizard, I decided it was losing a star.

Strangely, after all that ranting, I want to say that I did enjoy the book. It created a powerful mood and a complete feel of the town. It's like much of gothic literature in that the journey is the creepy fun, not so much the ending. If you're okay with that and you love powerful writing, give it a try.

My library was kind enough to get this from another county for me! Guess it's not so popular.
Profile Image for Guy Salvidge.
Author 14 books37 followers
July 12, 2016
I've noticed before this that poets, if and when they turn their attention to writing novels, often do an extremely good job. Take James Dickey's Deliverance, for example. If I was going to criticise this novel at all (and I'm not) it would be in saying that the plot is meandering. But, then, life is meandering too. Sallis writes as well as I can envision anyone doing and with the economy of a poet. His slim novel is the equal and better of many three times the length. He gets bonus points for mentioning several American SF writers, primarily Theodore Sturgeon, and even manages to work in a mention for Jim Thompson and his greatest novel, Pop 1280, too.

It's not often when reading that I think to myself, 'I can't do as well as this; not now, not ever' but I had that thought on a few occasions reading Willnot. It's my book of the year so far.
355 reviews
September 10, 2016
I have no idea what this book was about, but I loved it. How's that for a review?

Seriously, many things happen and few of them are resolved. Meanwhile, you're falling in love with the characters, who seem like real people, and the writing, which speaks to your emotions.

I began to read this short novel as a break from The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters. More than halfway through its almost 600 pages, I was drowning in detail and overwrought emotion. This is its complete opposite and by far the superior effort.
Profile Image for BrianC75.
393 reviews5 followers
January 2, 2017
I really like this author. Writes quality books in a really understated enjoyable way. Full of perceptive observations about the human condition. This book is promoted by his publisher as an example of Sallis's thriller/crime output. Not a good description - is more an essay describing life in rural America with great characterisation and insight.
The publisher also throughs in a MAJOR spoiler for anyone who reads the synopsis on the back of the book. Not good!
Read Sallis's - you will not be disappointed.
Profile Image for judy.
947 reviews19 followers
July 26, 2016
Falsely advertised as a mystery but that's ok. This is a tiny (under 200 pages) gem of novel. Beautifully done an probably unforgettable. I had never heard of Sallis before but that will be corrected immediately.
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