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