Created by James Crumley
You might come here Sunday on a whim.
Say your life broke down. The last good kiss
you had was years ago.
— Richard Hugo in “Degrees of Gray in Phillipsburg”
“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.”
— the opening lines of The Last Good Kiss
If you’re looking for sprawling, impressionistic tales of sex and drugs and guns and rock’n’roll, you’ve come to the right place. The novels of James Crumley read like the literary equivalent of a Warren Zevon album, with more than a little Hunter S. Thompson’s bad craziness and Jack Kerouac wanderlust jacked in.
And C.W. SUGHRUE, the redneck good ol’ boy demon-child private eye who hails from Meriweather, Montana, and has a hankering for mind-altering substances, high-powered weaponry and a definitely non-linear approach to detective work, is just the kind of man suited to suited to suck an adventure. There is a kind of high, wild poetry at play here, and it will break your heart.
Sure, he sounds an awful lot like Crumley’s other Meriweather gumshoe, Milo Milodragovitch, but C.W.’s wilder, crazier, nastier. They’re both veterans, but Milo did his time in Korea, while the slightly younger Sughrue served in Vietnam, where he was court-martialled for “unintentionally” killing an entire Vietnamese family. And while Milo is a basically a kind, generous guy, a bit smarter, a bit gentler, a bit less inclined to violence, Sughrue is a mean son of a bitch, a loaded weapon with a natural-born mean streak; the Tasmanian devil off his meds.
In fact, Crumley readily acknowledges, “Milo is my good side, Sughrue’s the bad.” And although they never appeared in the same novel until 1996’s Bordersnakes, they both frequently mention a former, nameless partner and now-and-then drinking buddy. It’s not too hard a stretch to believe they’re referring to each other here. And Crumley himself admits that C.W. and Milo “are friends, actually.” (Winter 1994, The Armchair Detective).
And don’t be misled by the kinder, gentler C.W. who pops up in the last novel, 2005’s appropriately titled The Right Madness. Oh sure, at first it looked like C.W. had finally cleaned up his act, even quitting smoking. But taking on a case for a psychiatrist pal of his who plays with C.W. in an over-50 softball league (!) soon has him falling back into his old habits, with whiskey, cocaine, assorted painkillers and tobacco right back on the menu and boasting “I was a fistful of random trouble again.”
It’s not the first time C.W. has fallen off in rather spectacular fashion. In Bordersnakes, we found C.W. almost settled down, with a wife and child. Well, until the supposedly older, wiser Milo showed up, anyway. But you’ve got to give the bastard credit for at least trying…
Crumley’s books are among the most-respected private eye novels of the turn of the millenium, and Crumley earned a reputation as one of that era’s foremost writers of private-eye fiction. C.W.’s debut, The Last Good Kiss (1978) is generally considered a stone-cold classic of the genre (with its opening paragraph quoted almost as often as the opening of Chandler’s “Red Wind”), while The Mexican Tree Duck received the 1994 Dashiell Hammett Award for Best Literary Crime Novel.
- “I’m the bastard child of Raymond Chandler. Without his books, mine would be totally different.”
— James Crumley (allegedly)
- “Do yourself a favor and read it tonight. Nothing you could do with your clothes on will be as pleasurable.”
— Otto Penzler, The New York Sun, on The Right Madness
- “Intellectual discourse is great, man, but in my business, violence and pain are where it’s at.”
— C.W. strips the bride bare in The Last Good Kiss
- “If your brain won’t work, wave a gun around. Sometimes that helps.”
—The Last Good Kiss
- “Nobody lives forever, nobody stays young long enough. My past seemed like so much excess baggage, my future a series of long goodbyes, my present an empty flask, the last good drink already bitter on my tongue.”
—The Last Good Kiss
- “I’m a private investigator, sir. I leave the blackmailing to the lawyers.”
— C.W. expounds on the legal profession
- “When even the bartenders lose their romantic notions, it’s time for a better world.”
— The Last Good Kiss
- “Stories are like snapshots, pictures snatched out of time, with clean hard edges. But this was life, and life always begins and ends in a bloody muddle, womb to tomb, just one big mess, a can of worms left to rot in the sun.”
—The Last Good Kiss
- “I make it a policy never to argue with drug lawyers: they have decent arguments and the best drugs.”
—The Mexican Tree Duck
- “I’ve got a hangover that would kill an ordinary man.”
— The Right Madness
- The Last Good Kiss (1978) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- The Mexican Tree Duck (1993) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- Border Snakes (1996; also featuring Milo Milodragovitch) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- The Right Madness (2005) | Buy this book
- “The Mexican Pig Bandit” (1998, limited edition; 1999, Murder & Obsession)
- “In his autobiography, David Carradine talks about how he came very close to playing CW Sughrue in a film version of The Last Good Kiss (I think Robert Altman was set to direct) but it never got made… ”
— Nick Allen (2000)
- Rocky Mountain Eyes
Colorado, Montana, Wyoming & Idaho
- James Crumley’s Unofficial Rules For Writing
Dwyer Murphy collection of craft lessons distilled from one of crime fiction’s all-time greats. (October 2020, CrimeReads)
Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.