The Book: James Crumley, THE LAST GOOD KISS. Pocket Books paperback, 1981 (originally published 1978). Fair condition; book is intact but spine and covers are badly creased, spine is cocked, pages are age-browned.
First read: 1987
Owned since: 1987 (best guess)
A very happy birthday to Tom Ehrenfeld, who first recommended this book to me.
And apologies for the lateness of this post, and the absence of yesterday's post. I have no excuse, except to say that redeye flights are a special form of torture, United Airlines is a sad and sorry shadow of what it used to be, and LAX is the ninth circle of hell.
Plus, dammit, it's the future. Where the hell is my jetpack?
I have said before in this space that THE LAST GOOD KISS is one of the best mystery novels of all time. It owes a great deal to Raymond Chandler's THE LONG GOODBYE, though to say more than that would give too much away.
It also has one of the best opening lines of all time: "When I finally caught up with Abraham Traherne, 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." Abraham Traherne is a famous author and a drunk, and C.W. Sughrue finds him - of course - in a bar. The bar's owner, Rosie, then hires Sughrue to search for her own daughter, Betty Sue Flowers, who disappeared ten years earlier.
Sughrue's search takes him all over the West, from San Francisco to Oregon to Montana, and through the death of the dream of the 1960s. The search overturns a few rocks that might have been best left alone, and Sughrue learns that some questions are best left unanswered. In a lesser author's hands, the twists of THE LAST GOOD KISS might make a reader say, "Aw, no way" -- but Crumley makes it all feel as inexorable as gravity.
Five Random Songs
"Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues," Bob Dylan. Uncannily appropriate theme music for this book. I close my eyes and see a scummy bar, with a jangly piano in the corner.
"Turn Out the Lights and Go to Bed," Lowen & Navarro. A jamming song about insomnia -- I think.
"In This House That I Call Home," The Knitters. The Knitters are a country-and-western incarnation of the punk rock band X, and they rock just as hard. Exene Cervenka rules, and John Doe is still the coolest.
"It's Only Natural," Crowded House. A lot of the happiest songs in my iTunes are about the fun of the first days of a crush. I like having crushes. They're so much easier than trying to keep a real relationship going...
"Like a Vague Memory," Marshall Crenshaw. A wistful song about how relationships end. "A vague memory won't go away/But it won't bring you down/Day after day." What did I just say?