James Crumley died recently. I decided to re-read The Last Good Kiss as my own memorial to him. It had been a couple of decades since I'd last read it. Some books are disappointing when re-examined, never quite living up to the wonderful memory. What I found is that The Last Good Kiss could never be a disappointment.
First of all, Crumley's language is beyond compare. He is in turns humorous, poetic, and philosophical. His writing is challenging, teasing, and unpredictable. Secondly, his plot is surprising; even now years later I still think Crumley's resolution rocks. Lastly, his characters are complex. C. W. Sughrue, his intelligent, sardonic, alcoholic, dysfunctional private eye and alter ego, defines classic hard-boiled. The layers peel back throughout the book to reveal the heart that beats within. And there is Abraham Trahearne, the alcoholic, dysfunctional author whom Sughrue is hired to find -- and, one suspects, also a Crumley alter ego. Crumley raises the genius of Trahearne's talent and then skewers him with a portrayal of his weakness.
It is not a surprise that this book is praised for its famous first line* and is an inspiration for some of today's best writers. What more could a mystery reader want?
*"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 Sonoma, California, drinking the heart right out of a fine spring afternoon."