When I finally caught up with Abraham Trahearne, he was drinking beer with an alcoholic bulldog named Fireball Roberts in a ramshackle joint just outside Sonoma, California, drinking the heart right out of a fine spring afternoon.
So goes what is sometimes called the greatest opening sentence in crime fiction, the beginning of James Crumley’s masterpiece The Last Good Kiss. The book is full of lines that good or better, beautifully crafted. When I read it in December 2008 I liked it, but didn’t see what all the fuss was about. The whole didn’t seem to equal the sum of its parts. My memories of it weren’t good as time passed.
Crumley’s name comes up a lot in the blogs and web sites I frequent, and he presented as someone I’d like in interviews. A couple of years ago I took a chance on Dancing Bear and loved it.
Confusion ensued. Dancing Bear is good, but Crumley’s magnum opus is universally considered to be The Last Good Kiss. How was I off by so much?
Leave it to The Beloved Spouse to set me straight. “You read that when you were sick, didn’t you? Maybe that clouded your judgment.”
Oh, yeah. I spent most of December 2008 and the early part of January 2009 on the couch with a nasty case of mononucleosis. That’s when I read The Last Good Kiss, followed immediately by Ken Bruen’s The Guards, which had also been highly recommended and I failed to see what all the fuss was about . The more I thought about it, I remembered reading more Bruen, too, and liked them both. (Priest and London Boulevard.) Maybe TBS was on to something. (It wouldn’t be the first time.) So this week, I got around to reading The Last Good Kiss again.
God damn, that’s a good book.
I haven’t read much PI fiction lately, which could be why I’m having so much trouble putting together the PI novel I’ve trying to work on since September. Crumley reminded me why I love PI fiction, things that work better in first person POV, and how to work around some of its limitations. Wonderful book.
Most people have favorites they’ll re-read from time to time, comfort food for the mind. Try reading an occasional book you didn’t care for, too. The book won’t have changed, but you may have, even if you only just feel better than the first time you read it.
I already have The Guards queued up.