It’s not what you think – but then, what is? "We found the bodies two miles outside town," it starts, this crime novel set in small town America, all of which sounds familiar territory. Willnot both is and is not the archetypal small American town, a self-contained community in which near everyone knows everyone else and their secrets, can tell you who owns which house, who built it and how it’s laid out inside. Fiercely independent too, a John Stuart Mill exemplar where you can behave as you like so long as you don’t cause serious harm.

The corpses are some years old and badly decayed and since it’s unlikely the mystery about them will be solved they come to symbolise something greater, to say something about the way our small private lives are small indeed when set against far larger, unknowable forces outside. Once they were gods and monsters; now we don’t know whether to blame the government, big business, the military or just someone else’s vendetta which we caught a glimpse of from the corner of one eye.

Sallis writes at a fast energetic pace you must catch on the wing as it flies by – carrying the story with it if you’re not careful, so you have to pay attention to what’s going on. Easy enough with a book like this.

Willnot

James Sallis

No Exit paperback, £7.99, 978-1-84344-669-9

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