Sarah Jane Pullman has lived a hardscrabble life. Her mom disappeared at regular intervals throughout her childhood. Her tour of duty in the Middle East ended with an RPG that killed her patrol partner right in front of her. She has cooked at every out-of-the-way diner in the tri-state area and fled an abusive marriage. But Sarah Jane has a knack for taking life as it comes.
“Lives rarely go into the oven as goo and come out beautifully golden,” she says.
Author James Sallis has delivered a long list of excellent crime novels, as well as biographies and books of poetry. With its spare but insightful prose and probing exploration of the price of our sins, Sarah Jane fits among his finest.
The titular character has settled down as a small-town cop, managing the fender benders, bar fights and neighborhood quarrels that pass for crime in a sleepy Middle America town. She regularly sees a man she likes just fine, and although she tends to keep to herself, she has a handful of friends and many more admirers of her low-key approach to the law.
Sallis imbues his story with an astonishingly real sense of place, settling Sarah Jane in a town that is “the kind of place that has period gingerbread houses shouldered up against modern cookie-cutters, where hardware stores and gas-and-live-bait shops cling to town’s edge, where you hear the whisper of old-country vowels in local speech.”
When an unusually violent crime shakes the town, it soon becomes clear Sarah Jane’s long-ago choices have caught up with her. Her intense need for privacy rubs up against the community’s need for answers. Sarah Jane finds herself thinking about her “patchwork past” and how it has led her to a place she can call home. This book will leave you marveling about our ability to carve out a life, no matter how different it is from what we expected.
As Sarah Jane learns, “However hard you stare at maps and plan, you rarely get where you think you’re going.”