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James Crumley, Author of Gritty and Poetic Crime Dies at 68

James Crumley, 68, a patron of post-Vietnam private eye novel, died of kidney and pulmonary complications, on September 16 at St Patrick Hospital in Missoula.


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He wrote 11 novels over the span of 30 years. His best known work is “The Last Good Kiss.” The opening lines of this novel have been acclaimed as the best in crime fiction. Though it took him eight years to write that line, it influenced future generations of crime writers like George Pelecanos, Denis Lehane and Michael Connelly. Many consider the line a masterpiece, a classic that fans would recite to him at book signings. Although he never had a best seller, he developed a cult following and received critical acclaim

According to George Pelecanos, “The Last Good Kiss” had inspired him, to write crime novels. “It was not a detective novel. It was not a cop novel. It showed us that a crime novel could be about something bigger than the mystery itself.”

James Crumley’s poetic and violent tales of crime in American west, were studies of gratuitous violence in men. Patrick Anderson of Washington Post, felt that James attracted readers not for his plot, but his outlaw attitude, his ‘faultless ear for filthy speech,’ rough poetry, scenes of twisted highways embroiled in drugs and alcohol. Stories of bars, brawls and brothels gave an angry edge to outlaw fiction.

Born in “Three Rivers,” in Texas, James Crumley was the son of an oil rig worker. He studied at Georgia Institute of Technology, before joining the army in 1958. He served in Phillipines and on discharge, graduated from Old Texas Arts and Industries University, in 1964. He did his masters degree in 1966 from the University of Iowa.

He taught in the University of Montana, University of Arkansas, Colorado State University of Texas at El Paso, Reed College in Portland, Ore and Carnegie- Mellon University in Pittsburg.

He wrote 7 crime novels, but is best known for writing the definitive private eye novel “The Last Good Kiss,” a single accomplishment worthy of a whole career. He made other fine contributions as well, ‘One Count to Cadence,’ and ‘The Mexican Tree Duck’ are two of them. His last novel ‘The Right Madness’ was published in 2005. He spent ten years writing screen plays but unfortunately, all found there way in some producer’s closet.

He once admitted that he wrote best in the confines of his kitchen, amidst the commotion. He closely observed the people around him, their behavior and gestures which he incorporated in his characters.

A revered and influential crime novelist, he was a true original. Brazen in language, a poet of violence known for hardened detectives and optimistic endings. Critics talk about his place in the pantheon of crime. Otto Penzler, founder of Mysterious Press of New York City feels, “He never found a vast mass audience, and I wish I could tell you why. I do not know.”

James Crumley was an easily accessible and generous man, who loved the world and loved life. He is survived by Martha, his fifth wife, five children, eight grandchildren and two great grand children.