James Crumley: poet of the night
Excerpts from the interview by Lynn Kaczmarek in the August/September 2001 issue of Mystery News
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.
It took Jim Crumley eight years to write the sentence that opens one of the most critically praised detective novels ever, The Last Good Kiss. That opening sentence has become so well known in some detective fiction circles that pride is taken in quoting it word for word. I had committed it to memory myself some three years ago or so when I first met Crumley at Magna Cum Murder in Muncie, Indiana. Kathryn Kennison, the organizer of this terrific Midwestern conference, was spouting it regularly as she dashed among the participants and her excitement was contagious.
Crumley was the after-dinner speaker at the conference. I remember him as a slightly self-conscious guy who mumbled something about his wife suggesting he wear a tie as he folded it and stuck it in his pocket. Rather than delivering a speech, he read from an as yet unpublished manuscript. It was atmospheric and sad, as I remember, almost poetic at times, yet filled with gritty, obscene language and raunchy sex. The juxtaposition was shocking and yet, looking back, incredibly symbolic of Crumleys work.
Its not easy to read his books, the new one, The Final Country, included. Theyre harsh and abrasive, filled with sex and drugs and country music. Then theres the weapons and death and hopelessness. And painful, sorrowful characters. Yet there are islands of such clarity, where thoughts and dreams and harsh reality coalesce into something so perfect, so true that it strikes a note at your very core. And you realize that there is poetry here. And thats why you read James Crumley.
It was over 20 years ago that Crumley wrote that opening sentence and all those that follow. And they still ring true. The plot is not terribly satisfying -- a guy runs away, his wife hires someone to find him and the finder ends up liking the runaway more than his client, at least in the beginning. But then theres an intriguing sub-plot, then another, and in the end, the plot isnt really the point, anyway. The point is the clarity, a truth simply told.
Although critically acclaimed by such as Publishers Weekly, The Wall Street Journal and Rolling Stone, Jim Crumley never made a bunch of money from The Last Good Kiss --only 4400 hardcover copies were printed. They never found a niche to put me in. Consequently, they never quite know what to do with my books. The Last Good Kiss is still in print today, though, and thats one sure measure of a classic.
Crumley works at night. Theres nothing going on -- theres no temptations; theres just you and the paper or you and the computer screen, or whatever it is you write with I try not to write too long at a setting because I get crazy. If I can get four or five hours a night in, thats good.
So just imagine, in Missoula, Montana, where if you know where to look, you can still find corners of reckless disregard, a sixtyish guy sits in front of his computer hammering the heart right out of a calm winters night.
Read the complete interview in the August/September 2001 issue of Mystery News