Monday, January 4, 2010

Review of The Last Good Kiss by James Crumley (Vintage Crime, 1978)

The well-known poet and literary writer Abraham Trahearne has disappeared on one of his bender’s, working his way through the classier bars of the western states. His ex-wife, Catherine, who lives with Trahearne’s mother, has hired Private Investigator C.W. Sughrue to track him down and bring him home to his new wife, Melinda, who lives across the creek. Sughrue is no stranger to an alcoholic haze and it takes him a couple of weeks to catch up with Trahearne in a Sonoma bar owned by Rosie Flowers, a wistful woman who’s husband is long gone, her two sons dead, and her daughter missing for over ten years. When Trahearne is hospitalised after a bar room scrape, Rosie persuades Sughrue to search for Betty Sue whilst he waits for him to recover. Trahearne though has other ideas, checking himself out of hospital to accompany Sughrue on the hopeless adventure, which quickly turns into another bender in the company of Fireball Roberts, Rosie’s alcoholic bulldog. Sughrue knows finding enigmatic Betty Sue is a hopeless task, but he won’t stop until he’s discovered the truth, whatever the consequences.

For almost two thirds of The Last Good Kiss I wondered if the story was going to go anywhere. It was a pleasant enough read - the characters were well drawn and engaging, the dialogue snappy and authentic, and the prose taut and lyrical, but the story meandered around, seemingly without purpose. Then the subtle interweaving of the various strands started to become apparent and the narrative shifted gear as the clever plotting worked its way out. And the ending was from the top drawer with a sucker punch to die for. Whilst Crumley uses the wide vistas of the western states as the backdrop, the story focuses on just a handful of characters and their inter-relationships, and this is what he’s particularly good at exploring – the foibles, weaknesses, and machinations of people and how they seek to play each other. And although Sughrue is cookie-cut from Chandler’s cloth - the typical alcohol fuelled, wise-ass, philosopher, a hopeless romantic that’s unable to commit to any woman – he’s nonetheless a character worth sharing time with. The Last Good Kiss is the best kind of subtle storytelling; the kind of book that lingers in the mind after its read.

1 comment:

Dorte H said...

"For almost two thirds of The Last Good Kiss I wondered if the story was going to go anywhere ..."

Well, then it doesn´t sound too silly that I gave up your four-star novel, before I got to the part where things began to happen :D
As far as I remember, I liked the main character, but I grew tired of it eventually.