When I think about books, I often find myself thinking about books I read and collected before the internet became a daily part of life and then the modern era, where the internet seems to guide what I read and collect. I guess this means the mid 90s is the time when things changed.
In a post about collecting John D. MacDonald, the comments thread mushroomed to cover Kingsley Amis, Philip Roth, Saul Bellow and James Crumley. The discussion reminded of what I was reading back in pre-internet time. I came late to early Philip Roth but I was right on time to be reading him when he wrote remarkable string of great books sort of late into his career. Roth was such a giant you could read about him anywhere. James Crumley, on the other hand, was more of a well-kept secret.
A friend suggested I read Crumley and it didn't take much before I was hooked. I dimly recall spending time in libraries trying to find out more about him. Crumley was a bad ass. He was a Texan, a big drinker and a tough guy, but also a graduate of University of Iowa Writers Workshop. Such a cool combination it seemed back then. And he wrote mystery novels set in Montana and the American West. He was a legend by the time I started reading him and it seemed like all mystery writers thought he was the greatest even though he wasn't a household name. I fell for it all, hook, line, and sinker.
One other great thing about James Crumley is that his books were republished in the 1980s as part of a series called Vintage Contemporaries. Aside from orange and green Penguins, these were the first series of books I noticed and like for their design. And to be published in this series indicated the author was in the cool club and should be read. (Maybe a dumb way to think about it but its probably not too dissimilar to how and why people follow certain bands.) This recent post about Vintage Contemporaries sums it up perfectly.
Raymond Carver, Don DeLillo, Jay McInernery, Richard Russo, Richard Ford, Frederick Exley - these were some of the others published by Vintage back then. (Russo and Ford are better than ever these days.) I loved these guys the most but I still have dozens of the others books published in the series. I think Crumley was the only crime writer to be published in this series.
I used to re-read Crumley all the time, The Last Good Kiss, especially. The Wrong Case and The Dancing Bear are also excellent. The rest of the work is good but I think a clear notch below these three. One would read them because they were more of the same by the guy who wrote these other three amazing books.