Farewell to James Crumley, Storyteller

James Crumley, the writer who created tough guy detectives and nefarious characters with offbeat approaches to life that matched his own, died on September 17, here in Missoula, at age 68.

Not only did I read his novels and appreciate his skills as a storyteller, I admired his attitude toward life. I wish I could imagine myself even half the writer that he was. The fact that he lived here and often included the local Missoula scene in his novels made for an added attraction in picking up one of his novels and quickly appreciating his talent with words, setting, mood, and characterization. In Crumley novels, the characters became the story; plot was secondary, and we loved it. Crumley found a lot of his inspiration at Charlie’s Bar (at the corner of space and time), here in Missoula.

Crumley published eleven novels. The most recent novel is The Right Madness which opens with a beautiful description of a Missoula evening here in western Montana. I think his best known work, if not his Best Work, is The Last Good Kiss. One of the most famous opening lines in all of hard-boiled crime fiction begins The Last Good Kiss, thus:
“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 of Sonora, California, drinking the heart right out of a fine spring afternoon.”

Another of my favorites is Bordersnakes, set in the Southwest, which features his famous protagonists C.W. Sughrue and Milo Milodragovitch, two cynical, tough, detached, and totally unforgettable characters, teaming up to tell the story.

I only know that James Crumley died from “medical complications.” His family was with him at the hospital.

Although he wrote like a “tough guy,” he had a big, gentle heart. We will miss him.

Check out my Restless Retirement blog at Retired and Restless. You may also enjoy the Missoula Recreation scene at Missoula Outside


  1. I will have to check out his work. Sounds interesting.


  2. Elaine here: I don't think I've ever read any of his books, but I always feel sad when an author or artist passes on.

    It sounds like he knew how to get a point across!

  3. Elaine here again: I just came back to say that I feel sad when *anyone dies. I'm sure you know what I meant, though.

  4. As an avid reader of mysteries and big book collector of great novelists, I enjoyed Crumley and have several of his books. He will be missed. Also passing away recent was Gregory McDonald, another fine mystery writer, best known for the Fletch novels. It seems as we get older we lose our favorite writers, it is, sadly, inevitable...


  5. Elaine here: Got your email - thanks. When A.R. Ammons (the poet) died, I really grieved. It touches one somehow.

  6. I noted Mike Foster's Comment about losing our favorite authors as we age. How true. And we also lose our favorite actors. I loved Paul Newman.


I would be very pleased if you leave a comment. I will read every one too!!!
Doug (Gruggers) in Missoula