James Crumley,
The Wrong Case
(Random House, 1975)

Welcome to Meriwether, a city in a mountain valley somewhere in the Pacific Northwest. It seems to be largely populated by homeless alcoholics and hippies. But it has a righteous sheriff. And it has Milo, a down-on-his-luck PI.

Milo used to make a decent living getting the goods on adulterers in divorce cases, but his state has eased the divorce laws and he's out of business. He's from a rich and famous family, but his trust fund doesn't kick in for 13 more years. He's already had three shots before lunch and, gazing out his office window, is amusing himself by watching a purse snatcher get run over in the street when the beautiful Helen walks into his office and tearfully asks his help in clearing up the death of her younger brother, who was found sitting on a bar toilet dead of a smack overdose, needle still in his arm. She insists he was murdered. Milo doesn't buy her story, but takes the case in hopes of getting her into bed.

Thus begins The Wrong Case by James Crumley, one of the most hard-boiled, vivid, cruel, sleazy, tender, brutal, alcohol-soaked and brilliant noir novels you'll ever read.

Written in the early '70s, it perfectly captures the era. There's a wonderfully rendered reckless hippie chick named Mindy who lives a nomadic life and who likes to pose nude beside highways to see if she can cause an accident. Listen to her and you can hear how young people actually talked back then. Youthful readers may think she's unreal. She's not. I knew lots of people like this back in the day. She reminded me a little of my first wife.

As Milo digs -- at first half-hearted, then with full-blown tenacity -- he gets beaten, shoots some people, blows up a gay guy's front porch, visits a commune and hands out surveillance jobs to his crew of jolly winos. Milo finally clears up the case and heads home, only to find one last startling and profoundly dismaying revelation awaiting him.

I wouldn't want to live there, but I love visiting Crumley's world.

review by
Dave Sturm

3 October 2009

Agree? Disagree?
Send us your opinions!

what's new