Sunday, December 16, 2012

James Crumley

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.  

 These are the four books published by Vintage.  One to Count Cadence is his first novel and its about the Vietnam War.  After that, Crumley wrote crime novels featuring one or the other of his two fictional private eyes (C.W. Shugrue and Milo Milodragovitch) or sometimes had them both together in later books.

 John D. MacDonald approves.

 I bought a fancy limited edition of The Final Country.  Still in its wrapper.

 Some collected fiction and nonfiction.

 Whores has some of the same content as The Muddy Fork.  Both Whores and my special edition of The Final Country were published by Dennis McMillan.

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.  


Chris said...

I love those first 3 crime novels, especially 'The Wrong Case'. Some of the dialogue and the scenes are unforgettable, and very funny as well. Really vivid moments of being. I have a copy of '...Crumb Duck' but haven't got around to reading it yet.

What's his Vietnam novel like?

Book Glutton said...

I never finished One to Count Cadence and don't remember much about it. I think I didn't like it so much because I read the crime novels first and sought out OtCC later because I wanted more Crumley. But its not in a Crumleyesque crime novel. I should give it a second chance.

Have you read Death and the Good Life by Richard Hugo?

Chris said...

No - had never heard of it. It looks good though,another one to go on the list. Thanks.