THE LAST GOOD KISS -- a lyrical, rambling, darkly funny, hard-boiled American detective story that transcends the genre
The Last Good Kiss by James Crumley (1988, Vintage Crime/Black Lizard; 244 pages)
If you’re a hardboiled mystery fan and you haven’t stumbled upon James Crumley yet, you’ve got a treat waiting for you. Several of them, in fact. Crumley wrote two fantastic series’ of rambling, violent, darkly humorous detective/crime novels from the mid 1970s through 2005, three years before his death in 2008. The first series begins with 1975’s The Wrong Case, and features world-weary private eye Milo Milodragovitch. The second stars another private eye, C.W. Sughrue, whose exploits begin in The Last Good Kiss, arguably Crumley’s best book, published in 1978.
Crumley has been compared to a post-Vietnam Raymond Chandler, and fans of the great L.A. mystery writer will see echoes of his classic The Long Goodbye in The Last Good Kiss. The tale kicks off with cynical, hard-drinking Vietnam vet Sughrue – a Montana P.I. who kills time by bartending at a topless bar – hired to track down the bigger-than-life alcoholic writer Abraham Trahearne by Trahearne’s ex-wife. Trahearne has disappeared, it seems, on one of his regular rolling binges – a tour, of sorts, of the taverns and bars of the roadside West. In a meandering narrative that is exceptionally well-written, often even poetic, Sughrue follows the trail of the drunken scribe, finally catching up with him in a rundown bar keeping company with a beer-lapping bulldog. A comical shootout ensues, and while Trahearne spends time nursing a gunshot wound to his buttocks, Sughrue gets hired by the tavern’s owner to find her long-missing daughter, who ran off in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury a decade earlier and hasn’t been seen since.
What follows is a seedy journey down the dark hole of the American dream – the one you fall into when the trap door opens beneath your feet. This is easily one of the best American mysteries ever written, and it transcends the genre, becoming one of the best American novels of the past half-century -- tough, lyrical, funny and tragic. It’s not the last great detective story – thankfully – but it’s certainly one of the best.
Find this title in our catalog: The Last Good Kiss
Recommended by: Greg
The Posthumous Man by Jake Hinkson (2013, Beat to a Pulp; 190 pages)
Right from the jump, you know that Jake Hinkson, author of The Posthumous Man, knows his noir. Even if you were unaware that he’s the author of The Blind Alley, one of the best and most readable works out there on the subject, you know he’s steeped in the shadowy world of noir just from reading the back cover blurb:
“When Elliot Stilling killed himself, he thought his troubles were over. Then the ER doctors revived him. It’s infatuation at first sight when he meets his nurse, Felicia Vogan, a lost soul with a ‘weakness for sad sacks and losers.’ She helps Elliot escape from the hospital, but once outside she leads him straight to a gang planning a million dollar heist. Does Felicia really want Elliot to protect her from the outfit’s psychotic leader, Stan the Man? Or is she just setting him up to take the hard fall?”
It doesn’t get much more noir than that. Until you start reading, and Hinkson grabs you by your lapels and hauls you even further down the hard, dark alleys of a story that just keeps punching, keeps getting darker, and tougher, and more surprising with every plot twist.
Hinkson’s protagonist, Elliot Stilling, is a sad sap, a guy who’s carrying around a 500-pound boulder on his back from his mysterious past. Whatever it is, it’s something so dark and terrible that it caused him to commit suicide. Hinkson deftly hides that dark something in Elliot’s past from the reader through Elliot’s own refusal to face it, or even talk about it. He gives us glimpses of a flashback, repeated a few times over the course of this short (173 pages) novel, but not enough to reveal what it is that haunts Elliot so, until the end. And when it hits, it hits you like a roundhouse in the gut that leaves you doubled over and gasping for breath.
This is great storytelling, great writing. Great noir.
Find this title in our catalog: The Posthumous Man
Recommended by: Greg