Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Obituary: James Crumley

James Crumley, one of the grittiest, darkest and most talented crime novelists of the last forty years has died. He was 68.

He's known for writing what many crime fiction aficionados and fellow writers consider the best opening lines in a any crime novel in the last half of the 20th century-- the beginning of his 1978 novel "The Last Good Kiss":
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 of Sonora, California, drinking the heart right out of a fine spring afternoon.
Those first lines apparently took him eight years to compose. Crumley's plots could be twisted wrecks, but his characters, atmosphere, and narrative tension were first-rate.

After his seventh novel, "The Final Country," came out in 2001, he told the Austin Chronicle, "I tend to steal things from Chandler by the handful. Like Eliot said, 'Bad writers imitate, good writers steal,' but I think he stole that from a French poet."

But while Chandler's Marlowe worked in Los Angeles, Crumley's two main characters, private detectives named Milo Milodragovitch and C.W. Sughrue, haunted Montana and Texas. Milogragovitch and Sughrue appeared in novels separately until 1996's "Bordersnakes."

Crumley was born in Texas. He's a graduate of the prestigious Iowa Writers' Workshop (1966), and according to the Missoulian, was there at the same time as Kurt Vonnegut. He taught English at the University of Montana Missoula and other schools (University of Arkansas and Reed College in Oregon among them), and lived mostly in Missoula. Crumley died in mid-September in Missoula of complications from kidney and pulmonary diseases.

Washington Post
The Missoulian
Los Angeles Times
New York Times

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