Friday, February 11, 2005

The Good, the Bad, and the Crumley

He’s been recommended to me in bookstores from Milwaukee to Fort Worth. Mentioned conversationally by everyone from Mike Connelly to Bob Crais. Hailed as the next great AND the last great thing.

James Crumley.

I also recall hearing as much about the man himself as his books. (“He once ripped a spine out of a bear with his bare hands!” “I seen him drink a quart of cobra blood at the end of a four-day drunk”). It seems he’s captivated the minds and stoked the overactive imagination of the mystery community for years now.

So finally, at the urging of the inimitable Shelly McArthur (The Mystery Bookstore, Westwood, California) I picked up THE LAST GOOD KISS. An obvious homage to THE LONG GOODBYE (here’s where I risk getting an email from the man himself, saying, “You stupid fuck—I’ve never even READ The Long Goodbye”), it picks up the same twisted, the-mystery-you-think-you’re-trying-to-solve-ain’t-even-the-half-of-it-buster structure. A story leading to a mystery leading to another story, that in turn leads to another mystery. At the center, a drunken writer. Maybe that explains it.

Crumley’s tone manages to be one-of-a-kind AND dead-on, which seems like an impossibility until you read him.

He’s at his best in moments like:

“I knew the men were probably terrible people who whistled at pretty girls, treated their wives like servants, and voted for Nixon every chance they got, but as far as I was concerned, they beat the hell out of a Volvo-load of liberals for hard work and good times.”
(In particular, I love the “every chance they got”).

And, when our irascible protagonist is being, well, irascible:

“Goddamn it, Sughrue, has anybody ever talked to you about your hospitality?”
“Never twice,” I said.

And later, when one of Crumley’s characters wisely remarks of another:

“He’s an artist and all artists are children.”

I’m embarking on his WHORES next and hope to find it as engaging and incisively humorous.

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