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Sarah Jane
Cover of Sarah Jane
Sarah Jane
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A spare, sparkling tour de force about one woman's journey to becoming a cop, by master of noir James Sallis, author of Drive
Sarah Jane Pullman is a good cop with a complicated past. From her small-town chicken-farming roots through her runaway adolescence, court-ordered Army stint, ill-advised marriage and years slinging scrambled eggs over greasy spoon griddles, Sarah Jane unfolds her life story, a parable about memory, atonement, and finding shape in chaos. Her life takes an unexpected turn when she is named the de facto sheriff of a rural town, investigating the mysterious disappearance of the sheriff whose shoes she's filling—and the even more mysterious realities of the life he was hiding from his own colleagues and closest friends. This kaleidoscopic character study sparkles in every dark and bright detail—a virtuoso work by a master of both the noir and the tender aspects of human nature.
A spare, sparkling tour de force about one woman's journey to becoming a cop, by master of noir James Sallis, author of Drive
Sarah Jane Pullman is a good cop with a complicated past. From her small-town chicken-farming roots through her runaway adolescence, court-ordered Army stint, ill-advised marriage and years slinging scrambled eggs over greasy spoon griddles, Sarah Jane unfolds her life story, a parable about memory, atonement, and finding shape in chaos. Her life takes an unexpected turn when she is named the de facto sheriff of a rural town, investigating the mysterious disappearance of the sheriff whose shoes she's filling—and the even more mysterious realities of the life he was hiding from his own colleagues and closest friends. This kaleidoscopic character study sparkles in every dark and bright detail—a virtuoso work by a master of both the noir and the tender aspects of human nature.
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Excerpts-
  • From the book 1.

    My name is Pretty, but I'm not. Haven't been, won't be. And that's not really my name, either, just what Daddy calls me. Beauty's only skin deep, he used to say, so when I was six I scratched my arm open looking for it. Scar's still there. And I guess it's like everyone saying if you dig deep enough you'll find China. All I got from that was blisters.
    My real name is Sarah Jane Pullman. Kids at school call me Squeaky. At church I'm mostly S.J. or (as Daddy's girl, a real yuck for the old guys in their shiny-butt suits standing by the Sunday School door having a cigarette) I'm Junior. Seems like everyone I know calls me something different.
    I wrote all the above in a diary when I was seven. It wasn't a real diary, it was a spiral-bound notebook, the kind you got for school, with a daisy-yellow cover that said Southern Paper and wide-spaced lines. For security I kept a paperclip on the pages in a changing pattern, how many pages got clipped together, where on the page. Who I thought might want to sneak in and read what a seven-year-old wrote about her life, I can't now imagine.
    Back then we were raising chickens, six thousand of them at a time in long buildings like army barracks, this the most recent of money-making gambits that included selling dirt from the hills behind the house, building backyard barbeque pits for people, and doing lawn-mower repair. We'd pull sweet little chirpy chicks out of corrugated boxes, then months later wade in among terrified chickens, snag them by their legs, and cram them into cages to get stacked on trucks and hauled away. You had to move fast or they'd pile up in corners of the houses and smother.
    Not that my parents were lacking. They worked their butts off, holding down regular jobs then coming home to this. Loading and unloading fifty-pound sacks of food, turning the sawdust litter daily, scooping and replacing it on schedule, making sure there was water and that the gas heaters in the brooders were good, jets clear, gas low and steady, no leaks. But there wasn't much money to be had in the town and what money there was, most of it flowed from and went back, having grown like the chicks, to the Howes or the Sandersons.
    I grew up in a town called Selmer, down where Tennessee and Alabama get together and kind of become their own place, in a house that spent the first sixteen years of my life getting ready to slide down the hill, which it did right after I left. Daddy moved into a trailer then and never much left it so as you'd notice. I don't want to say much about my marriage to Bullhead years later and all that. More scars.
    But I didn't do all those things they say I did. Well, not all of them anyway.


    Mom wasn't around much after I got to be ten. Nobody talked about it. She'd be gone, for weeks, months, then one morning walk out of the big bedroom and be around a while, moving here to there in the house like a stray piece of furniture we were trying to find a place for.
    Once she left in the middle of a movie, didn't say a thing, just walked away, some stupid comedy about a couple who had a first date and kept not being able to get together for a second one because of weather and cute animals and traffic jams and parades. My brother and I watched the rest of it, right up to the big ending with the guy stage right and her stage left and big open spaces between. Darn and I waited outside for half an hour before begging a city bus driver to let us ride home free, since we didn't have any money. My brother's name was Darnell, but everyone called him Darn.
    Daddy looked up from mixing a milk punch at the kitchen counter when we came in....
About the Author-
  • James Sallis has published eighteen novels, including Drive, which was made into a now-iconic film, and the six-volume Lew Griffin series. He is a recipient of the Hammett Prize for literary excellence in crime fiction, the Grand Prix de Littérature Policière, the Deutsche Krimi Preis, and the Brigada 21 in Spain, as well as Bouchercon's Lifetime Achievement Award. His biography of Chester Himes was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from August 26, 2019
    Sarah Jane Pullman, the narrator of this hypnotic, meticulously crafted crime novel from Sallis (Drive), has become the acting sheriff of Farr, a rural southwestern town, following the disappearance of her predecessor and mentor, Sheriff Cal Phillips. Sarah’s combat experience in the Gulf War and her heightened perception of human nature have made her a natural for law enforcement, but her life up until this point has followed anything but a linear route. Amid her search for the missing Phillips, Sarah fills in her past. After fleeing from her small Southern town at 17, Sarah hit the road, and a bit of trouble led to her court-ordered stint in the military. After her discharge, Sarah spent years adrift, finding work as an itinerant cook in faceless diners and shelters, moving through a string of relationships (including one with a violent cop), getting a college degree, losing a child, improvising a life, moving on when things got complicated. An insightful character study of one woman’s reckoning with her own demons, this is also a powerful look at contemporary America. Sallis is writing at the top of his game. Agent: Vicky Bijur, Vicky Bijur Literary.

  • Library Journal

    Starred review from October 1, 2019

    Sarah Jane Pullman narrates her story, which starts with her growing up "from good hillbilly stock" in the South, then leaving home at 16 and falling in with a group of hippies, getting arrested and sentenced to jail or the army, choosing the latter, and serving in the Mideast. An explosion kills a friend and sends her home. She marries an abusive cop and leaves him. She lives with another cop, who is killed, then Sarah Jane's military service, tragedies, and life experience garner her a job in the sheriff's department of a small town, Farr. When her mentor disappears one night, Sarah Jane becomes acting sheriff and searches for the man she replaced. She uncovers glimpses of a man who admits he made mistakes when he came home with PTSD. Then her own past comes calling, in the forms of an FBI agent and a cop from New Mexico. Accidents and rumors dog Sarah Jane, who claims she never did all the things they claimed she did. VERDICT Sallis (Drive) has a quiet way of narrating a powerful story of accidents and death. The lyrical language and ambiguous ending is reminiscent of the best of Craig Johnson's "Longmire" stories.--Lesa Holstine, Evansville Vanderburgh P.L., IN

    Copyright 2019 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • The Los Angeles Times "The power of simplicity and the musical ring of truth as only Sallis can deliver it--as he has done bravely, consistently, for the last few decades."
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