Tag: Lehane

The Last Good Kiss by James Crumley

Posted May 12, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Pulp / 0 Comments

The Last Good Kiss by James CrumleyTitle: The Last Good Kiss (Goodreads)
Author: James Crumley
Series: C.W. Sughrue #1
Published: Vintage, 1978
Pages: 244
Genres: Pulp
My Copy: Personal Copy

Buy: AmazonBook Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

James Crumley’s private investigator CW Sughrue finds himself searching for a runaway young woman, missing for ten years. But this is not how it started out; he was hired by a woman to find her ex-husband, Abraham Trahearne before he drinks himself to death. A confrontation in the bar that results in Trahearne being injured in hospital puts Sughrue in a position to look for this missing woman.

This hard-boiled novel is told in a way I don’t think has been done enough in a pulp crime novel. A parallel narrative exploring the problematic relationship between Sughrue and the wandering alcoholic novelist, and the three femme fatales in Trahearne’s life, just to make things more complex. Apart from that, you have the usual elements that make up a hard-boiled novel; alcohol, money, love, sex, power and violence.

Somehow James Crumley has a refreshing voice for this genre; I’m not sure if it is just that I’ve not read enough hard-boiled novels set in the seventies or there is something else there. I would put Crumley somewhere between Raymond Chandler and Jim Thompson; he doesn’t have the plotting skills and wit that Chandler has but he isn’t as violent and philosophical as Thompson. The narrative, while in a first person point of view, manages to switch between making the reader feel like they are in the same room trying to piece this mystery together, and then all of a sudden you are inside CW Sughrue head reading all his thoughts, emotions and memories. This isn’t easy to do but Crumley does this so seamlessly that you don’t really notice it happening. This narrative, mixed with the cynicism and low regard to society is what I think makes this book so refreshing.

This novel deals a lot with sex; Sughrue’s personal integrity and professional ethics are corrupted by the sexual desire towards Catherine; a desire she uses to manipulate him. Trahearne hasn’t been able to be creative because of his sexual desire with Melinda and his attraction towards his mother. Then there is Betty Sue, who just has a sexual desire towards everyone in the book. It’s important to know at the core of this books portrayal of sexual desire is the cynical belief that such corruption is unavoidable and even inevitable.

The Last Good Kiss also deals with the idea of identity and trying to escape your past, but ultimately realising you can’t run. Betty Sue hides her true self between layers of masks and other identities; she is running from her sexually exploitative time in San Francisco but it all comes back in the end. Trahearne can’t escape his infidelities, alcoholism and his ex-wife’s fury. All of them fail to realise that the past defines the present. Their mistakes in the past do not have to define their future but helps them grow; this book just ends up being a twisted celebration of life’s obstacles shaping our personality.

Admittedly I found myself being bored in parts of this book and wanting to skim read, but I persevered and found some interesting elements that stopped this from being a generic crime novel. CW Sughrue, is an alcoholic ex-army officer turned private investigator and that dark past is what makes me want to keep reading the series, just to discover what he is running from.  The Last Good Kiss has been described as the most influential crime novel of the last 50 years, influencing people like Michael Connelly, George Pelecanos, Dennis Lehane and even Neal Stephenson; that alone is an impressive reason to check this book out. While I think I prefer Jim Thompson for style and message, James Crumley is an author I plan to explore more of.


Guest Post: Brief Overview of Pulp Fiction – Part 4 (1990’s & On)

Posted December 16, 2012 by Guest Post in Guest Posts, Literature, Pulp / 0 Comments

There are currently many prolific authors working in crime fiction, whose names will not be mentioned, that occasionally find themselves labelled as noir by fans and critics alike and quite simply are not. They write about cops who have problems with their superiors or former military men with vengeance on their mind, they pile up the bodies and solve dark cases but they border on fantasy and as we’ve seen in the previous three parts to this overview true noirs are realistic and bleak with very few happy endings.

After assessing fifty years of noir and hard-boiled writing it becomes quite obvious that the fourth generation, the contemporary American hard-boiled and noir writer are yet to truly find their own unique voice or societal change to rail against.

If you accept that 9/11 changed the world completely in the same way that WWII and the threat of nuclear war did to previous generations we should expect a dramatic increase in distinct creative output from the next wave of authors.

What is clear is that, as with the rise in popularity of dystopian fiction, contemporary hard-boiled and noir authors are looking to their genre heritage and their countries past for settings and places to escape to. They are almost a lost generation, dreaming of a time when things were friendlier, less scary, less connected and invasive, that time when there was still some hope for the American Dream.

I discovered the work of Megan Abbott this year, she’s approximately 3 feet tall and specialises in reworking dark noir stories with a female centred twist. If you saw her on the street she’d probably be the last person you would imagine writing such dark novels. Her debut, Die A Little (2005), is set in 1950s LA and steeped in atmospheric suspense and voyeuristic appeal. She wrote four of these excellent period re-workings and then along came The End of Everything (2011) in which she updated her noir styling’s to teenaged girls in 1980s suburbia to amazing effect. It is a tale of lust, revenge, guilt, and my favourite four noir words; secrets, lies, passions and repressions.

Walter Mosley created the iconic hard-boiled hero Easy Rawlins in Devil in a Blue Dress (1990) and went on to write ten more books about his black private detective in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, ending with Blonde Faith (2007). Utilising the style of Chandler and MacDonald Mosley manages to craft top quality hard-boiled mysteries and blend them with analysis of the social inequalities of the time.

George Pelecanos is one of the most famous names from this list, especially for his time writing for the HBO series The Wire. He came to prominence however for his D.C. Quartet, a series of four historical crime novels set in Washington D.C.. He also created two fantastic hard-boiled series featuring first Nick Stefanos in A Firing Offense (1991) and then the pairing of Derek Strange and Terry Quinn with Right as Rain (2001) which has built him a reputation for his gritty depiction of street life and a focus on hard-luck criminals.

James Ellroy, the King of Sinnuendo, the Demon Dog of American crime writing, knows how to write bleak noir filled with hard-boiled characters like nobody working today. His work is generally set in the 1950s and 1960s, featuring densely plotted criminal behaviour from all sides of the law with his tone relentlessly pessimistic. Perhaps his best work (or at the very least the best place to start) is L.A. Confidential (1990) and should be followed up with the first part of his Underworld USA trilogy American Tabloid (1995). But nobody can describe him better than he describes himself:

“Good evening peepers, prowlers, pederasts, panty-sniffers, punks and pimps. I’m James Ellroy, the demon dog, the foul owl with the death growl, the white knight of the far right, and the slick trick with the donkey dick. I’m the author of 16 books, masterpieces all; they precede all my future masterpieces. These books will leave you reamed, steamed and drycleaned, tie-dyed, swept to the side, true-blued, tattooed and bah fongooed. These are books for the whole fuckin’ family, if the name of your family is Manson.”

Another black private investigator, Lew Griffin, got his start in The Long-Legged Fly (1992) by James Sallis, a novel that starts in the 60s and moves through to the 90s and would lead to five more outings. Sallis has his own way of writing these hard-boiled private detectives, they’re complex and often poetic in their structure. He would go on to create another great of modern noir, Drive (2005) about an unnamed stunt driver who also works as a getaway driver for criminals.

Don Winslow might be most widely known for his brilliant and brutal modern noir Savages (2010) but he also created the surfing private detective Boone Daniels in The Dawn Patrol (2008). Winslow is known for his adrenaline-fueled novels and unique prose style, his subject matter is nothing ground breaking but he entertains like nobody else in the genre.

That leaves us with only Dennis Lehane to draw part four to a close. Lehane might just be best known for his psychological thrillers turned in to Oscar bait movies but his six Boston based noir thrillers featuring male/female investigation team Kenzie & Gennaro are some of the best in modern hard-boiled crime writing. Their first outing A Drink Before The War (1994) set a high standard to live up to but he reached incredibly bleak heights with Gone Baby, Gone (1998).

I’ll reserve special mention for another Brit, Philip Kerr, the creator of the Bernie Gunther novels. These books are a fantastic throwback to classic hard-boiled novels. Bernie starts as a private detective in Berlin as Hitler is consolidating his power and witnesses some truly awful things. His first three adventures are collected as Berlin Noir (1989 to 1991) and are well worth your time.

This is a guest post by blahblahblahtobyYou can find him discussing books on Goodreads, discussing movies on Letterboxd, tweeting nonsense as blahblahblahtoby and on his blog blahblahblahgay, feel free to say hi.

There are literally dozens of great authors and great novels that could have been suggested as essential reading for this guide. The writer of the article went through agonising decisions over who to leave out and is more than aware that your favourite author probably hasn’t been mentioned but feel free to start a discussion in the comments.

This post is part of a four post series exploring the history of Hard-Boiled and Noir Fiction, for recommendations check out each post;

The 1930’s – 1940’s

The 1950’s

The 1960’s – 1980’s

The 1990’s – Onwards


Mystic River by Dennis Lehane

Posted October 26, 2012 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Crime / 0 Comments

Mystic River by Dennis LehaneTitle: Mystic River (Goodreads)
Author: Dennis Lehane
Published: William Morrow, 2001
Pages: 401
Genres: Crime
My Copy: Personal Copy

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Dave, Sean and Jimmy where childhood friends, but things changed when Dave gets into a stranger’s car and the others don’t. Twenty five years later all three are completely differently people.  Sean is a detective, Jimmy is an ex-convict and Dave is just a shell of a man; never quite recovering from the emotionally scarring events of his past. Their lives come together again when Jimmy’s daughter is found brutally murdered, Dave returns home covered in blood and Sean is put on the case to find who killed Jimmy’s daughter.

Mystic River is a psychological thriller that never really felt right. Not to take anything away from Dennis Lehane; while this is the first book of his that I’ve read I think he has the talent to write dark, noir-ish psychological thrillers but maybe this is a bad example of his ability. The book opens with the childhood and Dave being abducted by the child molester, which while a terrible thing to happen it didn’t feel like Lehane hit the mark with the attempt to be dark and disturbing with this situation. Then the book seemed to drag on and on until the book finally started to pick up pace about half way through.

When it comes to the crime, I found it rather weird that they would assign the case to someone that knows the victim’s father. Sure it was twenty five years ago but to me it still felt like a conflict. Sure I don’t know too much about police procedure but to me that just doesn’t seem right. Overall, this book didn’t feel dark enough, the writer did seem to make it a dark thriller but I felt like it never got there and fell more into the area of predictable. When I read a psychological thriller, I expect a complicated and twisted story and I don’t think I got it here.

The book was entertaining and I’m glad to have read it but it wasn’t something I would recommend anyone else read. I hope Dennis Lehane’s other books are a lot better because while I can see what Mystic River is trying to achieve I think it fell too short. I think the emotions within this novel were too flat and this was the overall problem. I’ve not seen the movie but I wonder if the tension and emotion worked within it since this adaptation was well received.


Book Review: Live By Night

Posted October 2, 2012 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Crime / 0 Comments

Book Review: Live By NightTitle: Live By Night (Goodreads)
Author: Dennis Lehane
Series: Coughlin #2
Published: William Morrow, 2012
Pages: 416
Genres: Crime
My Copy: ARC from Netgalley

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

While Joe Coughlin is the son of a Boston Police Captain, he has long turned his back of being a moral citizen. Joe has graduated into petty crimes to high paying robberies. But when he robs a speakeasy of a Boston mobster things change for him. When the mobster kills Joe’s love, Emma, he becomes obsessed with seeking revenge. Joe works up the ladder of organised crime till he is in the right position to take his revenge. But taking on a rival family is never so simple. This is the basis of Dennis Lehane’s latest crime novel Live by Night.

Most people know I’m a huge fan of pulpish and organised crime novels so I was really interested in checking out this novel. My first attempt of Dennis Lehane with Mystic River didn’t go too well but I was excited to give him another go, simply because the premise of this book sounded really good and the idea of reading a crime novel set in the prohibition era really enthused me. This book started out strong. I really liked Emma the love interestand was very sad to see her get killed off; I was ready to seek revenge too. The revenge aspect and the becoming a powerful mobster were really good but then you get half way through the book and it falls flat. Almost like Dennis Lehane had changed his mind of what type of book this is and switches genre.  Without giving too much away I was disappointed with the change in style and although there are some great crime elements later on it just felt a bit odd.

I loved the characters in this book and this was my biggest worry because with Mystic River I felt they were a bit flat and one dimensional. I think it was interesting to hear that Lehane wrote another book called The Given Day which is based around the same family but focuses on a different character; I believe its Joe Coughlin’s brother. Even if they seem to be connected, Live by Night does a great job of developing the characters without having to read the other book.

I’m a little disappointed that this book had so much potential but the last part of the book fell short. Personally I think this book could have ended a lot earlier or cut out the parts that weren’t working. Lehane was trying to develop the characters a bit more in the sections that weren’t working but in my opinion they didn’t help the novel. There are some great elements in this book and overall it was an enjoyable crime novel. I think I will have to check out The Given Day and some more Dennis Lehane novels based on my experience with this one.