James Crumley,
The Last Good Kiss
(Random House, 1978)

As a city slicker, I don't much care for a lot of nature description in my noir reading, which is why I cannot abide the swamps of James Lee Burke. When I saw that James Crumley's hero C.W. Sughrue lives in Montana, I was wary. But I heard so much praise for The Last Good Kiss, I decided to pick it up. I'm glad I did.

Thankfully, Crumley keeps the Rockies in view, but only just. Some thoughts:

• The book has, by my count, four separate climaxes. Things seem wrapped up ... but no! The bear-like alcoholic writer Trahearne lumbers back into view and the action picks up again.

• Speaking of alcohol, it is being gulped on just about every single page of this book. It's one bender after another. You can get s--tfaced just reading it.

• People in this book don't just say things. They stutter, wail, whine, etc. In one case, "I cliched."

• The book is vividly cinematic. The raid on the porno house plays like a movie in your head.

• The dialogue is terrific. Sughrue's nihilistic comebacks (he's not really a nihilist) will have you grinning.

• There are way more female than male characters. That's unusual in a hard-boiled yarn like this one. One is a really cool character named Stacy -- only 24 and hard as nails. I wish we'd seen more of her.

• Speaking of characters, there are just too many. Plus, it moves around geographically too much. If you put the book down and pick it up later, chances are you'll have forgotten where in the United States you are. It's incredibly convoluted.

• As the book closes, there's a confusing murder that doesn't seem to make sense and feels like a betrayal of the reader. Crumley saves the payoff for the final two pages and it's brutally nasty. I loved it. Hard-boiled as a 10-minute egg.

If you like it down and dirty and don't mind a touch of mountain scenery, check this one out.

review by
Dave Sturm

24 April 2010

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