California, drinking the heart right out of a fine spring afternoon. This auspicious beginning is in the voice of an itinerant Montana private eye named C.W. Sughrue \(“Shoog as in sugar it sets the tone for the lyrically described mayhem that follows. Sughrue starts out looking for one missing person and ends up following a different one all over the Mountain West, where he encounters enough tough-guy treachery, venality, mendacity, violence, and heartbreak to satisfy any fan of Raymond Chandler or Ross Macdonald. The Last Good Kiss sold only a few thousand copies on release, but after its publication Crumley was a made man in the world of hard-boiled writers and their hardcore fans. Crumley was a Texas expat by choice, living for decades in Missoula, Montana, a medium-sized university town full of writers and bars. In short, a perfect place for Jim Crumley, a companionable fellow who was known to lift a glass. His unlikely road to national and international fame and Mathis, small South Texas communities where his father worked on oil rigs and his mother waited tables. He later said that his father was a gentle man and that his mother was forceful and violenta woman who insisted that he go to church, but avoided it herself because she couldn’t afford Sunday clothes. Crumley played some high school and college football \(“I grew up learning to run into people at high speeds:’ he once sive lineman: a rolling gait, enormously strong arms and shoulders, and really bad knees. After high school, he attended college at Georgia Tech on a Navy ROTC scholarship and quit to join the Army. After getting a degree at what was then Texas A&I, he entered the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where he read Faulkner and Tolstoy and Dostoevsky for the first time. His student fiction project became One to Count Cadence, a fine war novel based on his Army experiences in the Philippines. Crumley had quickly invented himself as a serious writer. This was in 1969. One to Count Cadence was not totally ignored, but there were a lot of good books just then, and a lot of great music and engrossing politics, so Crumley’s first novel was a bit lost in the shuffle. To make ends meet, he began teaching at western universities, including Colorado State, Reed College, and UT-El Paso. In his free time he loved to drive and hit small-town bars as he found them. “D&D” he called it: driving and drinking. Along the way, he made a lot of literary friends. Austin novelist Tom Zigal lived in the Bay Area in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and he has photographs of Crumley posed with literary pals who had converged on San Francisco from all over. One of Zigal’s old snapshots shows Crumley standing with a motley group of future notables, including Max Crawford, Tess Gallagher, Raymond Carver, and Chuck Kinder \(the model for Grady Tripp in Michael Chabon’s Crumley had read Dostoevsky, but not the great detective novelists, until Montana poet Richard Hugo confessed to Jim that he wished he could write a sentence like Raymond Chandler. \(Hugo later tried with his own detective novel, Death and Crumley finally picked up some Chandler off a paperback rack in Guadalajara, Mexico, and was soon hooked on the clear moral imperatives and stylistic immediacy of Chandler and the other masterful Los Angeles detective novelist, Ross Macdonald. Crumley embarked on his first detective book. This was The Wrong Case, published in 1975, which begins with words of wisdom uttered by Macdonald’s private eye, Lew Archer: “Never go to bed with a woman who has more troubles than you do:’ The Wrong Case features Crumley’s first detective, a kindly and sometimes drunken Montana private eye named Milo Milodragovitch, who conducts not much business on the fourth floor of a building named after his grandfather. Milo spends his days mainly looking out his window at the mountains and waiting until his favorite barmaids start work at his favorite bars. He is also waiting to turn 52, when he will inherit his family’s fortune. The Wrong Case begins in classic Chandler-Macdonald-Chinatown style, with a redhead timidly knocking on Milo’s office door. This, of course, leads to complications, some of them sordid, and to many tough-guy bons mots, as when one character turns to Milo in a bar and says, “Let’s get drunk and be somebody”a line that Alcoholics Anonymous should give pride of cautionary place in its literature. Crumley wrote most of The Last Good Kiss \(the title taken from a line of poetry College, a small, liberal arts campus in Portland, Oregon. There he was a charismatic figure who gathered groups of bright undergraduates to demonstrate the attractions of D&D up and down the Oregon and Washington coasts. The Last Good Kiss is the book everyone noticed, the book that was warmly reviewed in Newsweek and raved about in Rolling Stone by Greil Marcus. After the opening line about the alcoholic bulldog been hired to find, in the process getting sucked into the search for a missing young woman named Betty Sue Flowers. Something of the tone of Sughrue’s quest through the hard-bitten West shines through in this passage about Sughrue’s search for the writer Trahearne: I found myself chasing ghosts across gray mountain passes, then down green valleys riddled with the snows of late spring. I took to sleeping in the same motel beds he had, trying to dream him up, took to getting drunk in the same bars, hoping for a whiskey vision. They came all right, those bleak motel dreams, those whiskey visions, but they were out of my own drifting past. As for Trahearne, I didn’t have a clue. Once I even humped the same sad young whore in a trailer-complex out in the Nevada desert. She was a frail, skinny little bit out of Cincinnati, and she had brought her gold-mine out west, thinking perhaps it might assay better, but her shaft had collapsed, her veins petered out, and the tracks on her skin looked like they had been dug with a rusty pick. After I had slaked too many nights of aimless barstool lust amid her bones, I asked her again about Trahearne. She didn’t say anything at first, she just lay on her crushed NOVEMBER 14, 2008 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 23
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