My mother raised two boys. She loves spending time with my son, her grandson, who has a tendency to bouncing-off-the-walls physical craziness in the manner of many toddlers. When he does something along those lines, my mother, who would know, is fond of saying “You’re such a boy.”
I read mostly male authors but I have done better in recent years. I’ve tried really hard to get away from tough-talking PIs who put women in their place and screw them when the case is solved. I rarely read books that feature women being murdered anymore, finding the trope tiresome, predictive, and misogynistic.
But man, good writing is good writing. I am such a boy. And James Crumley, whose sole ambition is to write about the angst of drunken men, is a damn good writer.
It took me four tries to get through Crumley’s seminal work The Last Good Kiss, because as much as I liked it in the beginning, I couldn’t get over some of its toxic parts. When I pushed through, I discovered why the novel is seen to be a gem by so many, even if the mystery is weak. Crumley’s dialogue is so much fun, his characters (minus some female ones who we’ll get to) so rich, his world so vivid. I mentioned in my review of the novel that The Last Good Kiss was as if the America song Ventura Highway came to life as a murder mystery.
Like Good Kiss, this one evokes the beauty of the west, specifically the pacific northwest. The town felt lived in and Milo, an obnoxious drunk, felt like a logical extension of its best and worst. The other barflies and assorted losers he hangs out with feel real too. You wanna hang out with these people, maybe not too long and maybe one drink short, but long enough for the fun.
The mystery is prevalent here but almost an afterthought, which usually bothers me in books but doesn’t as much here. It’s reminiscent of early Chandler in that it has a convoluted plot that shakes out a little too neatly by the end. But it still kept me guessing.
The book has two main weaknesses which will turn many readers off so be forewarned….
- Homosexual characters are critical to the plot and while Crumley is probably sensitive for someone writing a book in 1975, this still came out in 1975. It’s not the best depiction of homosexuality. Be forewarned.
- The female lead who kick starts the mystery is the same kind of poorly written female character in Good Kiss. Crumley can’t decide if he wants to make her a damsel in distress or a femme fatale and we kind of know by the end but her existence gives the plot purpose and not much more. She’s angry when she should be, horny when Milo needs her to be…you get where this is going. The other female characters are interesting and Crumley takes their circumstances seriously. But they’re not the main one. And it is a major problem.
Reading Crumley reminds me of a line from The Last Good Kiss when CW Shugrue witnesses a bunch of manual laborers heading to the bar after a shift: I knew they 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 liberals for hard work and good times. I enjoyed myself reading this and I want to read more, even if I should know better by now.