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Posted: July 18, 2021

James Crumley is a writer who has few equals in this genre

Book Review

By Derryll White

Crumley, James (1996).  Bordersnakes.

James Crumley (1939-2008) has been described by Maxim Jakubowsky as “one of modern crime writing’s best practitioners” and anyone who has read a selection of his work will probably agree.  He is another of those Texas writers who moved to Montana, and worked at the University of Montana in the English faculty.

His writing is driven, sometimes violent, and always descriptive of a hard life.  The author was profligate with his own living practices – cocaine six days a week, eating five times a day and consuming a bottle of whiskey a day.  His characters exhibit much of the same. Crumley at his best presents his material as a real road warrior, Hunter S. Thompson style.

Miles Milodragovitch in ‘Bordersnakes’ searches long and hard, finding his old buddy C.W. Sughrue in Fairbairn, West Texas.  It was a long way from Montana where they were once P.I.s and friends together. Kerouac with a purpose, James Crumley wanders the back roads of Texas in a fine ride, experiencing life.  He captures characters – the poor, rich, yuppie and bordersnake – and brings them vividly to life. This is a wild, tequila-fueled ride by a writer who has few equals in this genre.

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“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.”  – ‘The Last Good Kiss’ by James Crumley.

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Excerpts from the novel:

WEST TEXAS – After thirty minutes on the little highway without seeing a soul – not even a buzzard – I spotted a small herd of longhorns among a patch of thorned bush hopelessly trying to crawl up the genetic ladder toward freedom.  When I stopped to stare at the cattle, they stared back, their wild eyes perfectly at home in that reckless landscape, their gaze as rank and rangy as the African breed that began their bloodline.  I wondered how the hell those drovers managed to herd these beasts from West Texas to Montana in the 1880s without Cobra gunships.

MARRIAGE – Looking back over my five marriages and four divorces – one of my wives died in a car wreck with three sailors before we could get divorced – sometimes I wanted to track these women down to ask what we had done wrong.  But I knew better than that.  What we’d done wrong was to marry.  The marriages are just flings and larks and hangover refuges.

TOLERANCE – Like most middle-aged white American males I grew up during the years when nobody except fundamental Christians and other bigots knew exactly what to think about “the love that does not speak its name.”  Working my side of the street, though, I didn’t exactly see the best side of any segment of the population.  Mostly, they were just there.  Faggots, butt-fuckers, cocksuckers, nances, flits – they’re just names.  Beyond the insults, you find people.  Real people.  Maybe a little sadder than everybody else.  But on the whole, as we’ve come to find out recently, not nearly as dangerous to small boys as some Catholic priests.

MILO MILODRAGOVITCH – Fucking Milo.  The old fart stands over there next to the cliff watching a pod of gray whales about half a mile out through the spotting scope, leaning to stare into the cold, blunt face of the Pacific.  The sundown sea is calm today, with a thrilling blush of fire that glistens like molten blood on the flat, sullen slopes of the easy swells, then fades to black with the passing tilt of a wave.  One of the whales spouts, a trail of breathy waters like a sigh hanging in the stolid air.  Milo grunts.  I can tell by the hunch of his shoulders that he feels as if he’s been hunted nearly to extinction, too.

BORDER COUNTRY – But the cooler was empty.  I couldn’t go to the sunset without a beer.  Luckily I was just passing La Esperanza del Mundo – a tiny Mexican beer joint that seemed to capture all the horrible moments between Texas and Mexico, the wars, the lies, the naked aggression of a country led by the Protestant gods of capitalism against a country confused by the old gods and the Catholic Church, a country mad with beauty and despair….  Yes.  La Esperanza.  “Poor Mexico” they say.  “Too far from God and too goddamned close to Texas.”

– Derryll White once wrote books but now chooses to read and write about them.  When not reading he writes history for the web at www.basininstitute.org.


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