Review: Willnot by James Sallis

Posted in Blog by - June 06, 2017


I am the opposite of a mystery fan. I have read the entire Sherlock Holmes canon end to end, and the main things that interested me were the relationship between Holmes and Watson and the tiny flashes of humanity in Holmes that seemed to occur only once every dozen stories or so. I tried some Agatha Christie and hated it, despite grudging admiration for the tortuous ingenuity of And Then There Were None. I once picked up a Maigret novel by Georges Simenon and all I got out of it was the moody Parisian atmosphere.

The trouble with mysteries and me is, I just don’t care who did it. Which makes James Sallis’s Willnot the right kind of mystery for me.

The title refers to a remote community of misfits, oddballs and stubborn individualists whose town doctor becomes embroiled in puzzling goings-on after the discovery of a mass grave. But in this story, the sleuth himself is an enigma: After a long, unexplained coma in childhood, Lamar Hale is beset by feverish dreams and out-of-body experiences that seem to propel him into other people’s bodies and future incidents.

The plot doesn’t so much unwind as lurch sideways, odd incidents punctuating quotidian routine, simulating the texture of life in a small, quirky town. The characters are colorful and engaging, and Sallis’ prose is spare and often poetically wistful.

If all you care about is who done it, you may leave Willnot unsatisfied. But if the vagaries of the human heart intrigue you, you’ll be glad you visited, and may want to go back.

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Rick Schindler grew up in the idyllic northern suburbs of Buffalo, N.Y., a psychic stone’s throw from Archie Andrews’ hometown of Riverdale. His writing career began at age 15 when he won a New York Times award for a short story published in his high school literary magazine. At 19 he interned on the copy desk of the Buffalo News, where he discovered a knack for headline writing that has served him in good stead until the present day. He went on to a checkered media career that has included stints at HBO, TV Guide and NBC News Digital, where today he is a writer and editor for the website of the venerable American TV show TODAY. Schindler shared a 2012 Sigma Delta Chi award in online reporting with NBC News’ Bob Dotson for the “American Story with Bob Dotson” features on He also won two 2012 awards in headline writing from the American Copy Editors Society, another in 2014 and two more in 2015. Schindler lives in White Plains, New York.