“When I finally caught up with Abraham Trahearne, he was drinking beer with an alcoholic bulldog named Fireball Roberts in a ramshackle joint just outside of Sonoma, California, drinking the heart right out of a fine spring afternoon.” – from The Last Good Kiss (1978).
In my previous post, I mentioned the death of author David Foster Wallace – an author I can respect, but not one whose work I have ever read – while I neglected to mention the loss of a hardboiled crime-noir icon, in Mr. James Crumley. Crumley died in Missoula, Montana at age 68 from complications from kidney & pulmonary diseases on September 17. He was the creator of one of my all-time favorite flawed, lowlife private detectives, C.W. Sughrue. These were my thoughts after finishing what may prove to be Crumley’s final novel, The Right Madness:
Man, “madness” is right. This makes other “hard-boiled” detective novels look like The Secret Life of Bees. C.W. Sughrue is the lowest of the lowlifes – a violent, cynical man who drinks & fights to terrifying excess while working as a private investigator in Montana & points north. He finds himself wrapped up in a long-reaching conspiracy with his best friend at its center that threatens to tear his fragile, hard-earned sanity down around him. All the while his past hovers above & behind him like a swarm of insects on a hot day, following the stink.
Crumley wrote just three books featuring Sughrue (one of which I have been unable to get my hands on), three others with Milo Milodragovitch, and one with both characters. Of his leading men, he once said “Milo’s first impulse is to help you; Sughrue’s is to shoot you in the foot.” – of course, a perfect summary. I stumbled upon his books when The Right Madness arrived in 2005 – I don’t think I had ever even heard of him before that – maybe vaguely. He never won any substantial accolades, his books weren’t raved over in the New York Times, and they were never national bestsellers. Yet, he certainly left an impression on the genre – his books inluenced modern writers just as much as Chandler or Hammett and made me think, “What kind of crap was I reading before I found these?” Perhaps the acclaim he always deserved will fall on him posthumously. Who knows. I’m just sorry that he didn’t write more – although that just makes the novels he did produce all the more special.
The Crumley Reading List:
One to Count Cadence (1969)
The Wrong Case (1975) Milo Milodragovitch series
The Last Good Kiss (1978) C.W. Sughrue series
Dancing Bear (1983) Milo series
Whores (1988) short stories
Muddy Fork and Other Things (1991) short fiction and essays
The Mexican Tree Duck (1993) Sughrue
Bordersnakes (1996) Sughrue and Milo
The Putt at the End of the World (2000)
The Final Country (2001) Milo series
The Right Madness (2005) Sughrue series