Saturday, January 21, 2017

Dancing Bear - James Crumley

I caught her day-drinking at the Doghouse, and when she came to the phone, she was mumbling drunk. "Winter, winter," she kept blubbering. "I can't stand another goddamned winter alone, Ralph." Ralph was an ex-husband twice removed. When she finally understood who I was and what I wanted, she lurched out of tears and into cursing. "Why don't you want to know where I live, bastard, why?" Then she hung up. By the time I drove out to the Doghouse, she had left. I called some more bars without luck. Lady bartenders live a tougher life than anybody knows.

Vintage Books, September 1984
Once again we're in the confused, rambling, wired-out-the-ass world of James Crumley as his weary hero Milo Milodragovitch meanders through a complicated maze of missing persons, surveillance, drug smuggling, guns, hand grenades, and environmental sabotage. And lots of schnapps and cocaine.

Again, my copy of the book has blurbs comparing James Crumley to Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. I can only say to forget those comparisons. They're not even close. Crumley's novels are wholly original takes on the myth of a private detective slaying dragons and righting wrongs. Comparisons to Hunter S. Thompson are far more appropriate. Crumley's heroes, Milo and Sughrue, are submerged in chaos and substance abuse and plots that make no sense to them, and barely any to the reader. Someone gets drunk, shot, beat up or screwed by a tough woman on just about every page. And throughout are observations on war, love and death that propel our heroes to inevitable disappointment and grudging justice. Dancing Bear is no different then any other of the novels by James Crumley that I've read. A rehash of the plot would be meaningless in attempting to entice a reader to enter Crumley's world. There is no linear path of discovery and justice that private eyes like Lew Archer and Philip Marlowe follow. No sun-burnt streets lined with palm trees and emerald lawns to wax cynical about. No glittering mobsters and sloe-eyed vixens to exchange deceit with. Instead you have an extremely flawed and marginally honorable hero barely managing to hang on to his own sanity while consuming massive quantities of drugs and alcohol in pursuit of a case that has no real beginning or end. Side trips and diversions, often to a dive bar or motel, are the norm. Romance with myth and heartbreak with reality at at constant odds.

This is the 5th novel I've read by James Crumley, and I can only tell you that I'm sorry there aren't more. I have a couple to go yet, not counting a collection of his short stories called Whores (which I imagine will be almost impossible to find) and I'm torn between holding off reading them, or diving right in to them now.

If you've not read one of his novels yet, then perhaps you should. Take one with you when you escape to Mexico after shooting someone who burned down your house.

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