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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
James Crumley caught the attention of crime-fiction aficionados as a promising new writer with his 1975 debut, The Wrong Case, a memorably sleazy thriller featuring hard-drinking private investigator Milo Milodragovitch. Three years later he delivered on that promise with his masterpiece, The Last Good Kiss, which has become one of the seminal PI novels of the late 20th century.
Crumley published only three more novels (Dancing Bear, The Mexican Tree Duck, and Bordersnakes) over the next 18 years and has come to be known as an author who takes his time to perfect his craft, although none of his later novels matched the level of his early work. Given that context, The Final Country is an unexpected pleasure -- a fierce, funny, wickedly well written novel, easily Crumley's finest since The Last Good Kiss.
The Final Country brings back Milo Milodragovitch, who has stumbled into a prosperous, peaceful late middle age and hates every minute of it. He owns a bar and a motel in the Texas Hill Country, has more money than he ever really wanted, and has entered the terminal stages of his latest long-term relationship. To counteract the boredom that has permeated his life, Milo resumes his interrupted career as a private eye. While tracking down a runaway wife, he meets -- and shares a drink with -- an on-the-lam ex-con named Enos Walker, who has just gunned down a drug dealer in the Over the Line Saloon. Milo feels an atavistic sympathy for Walker, who might have acted in self-defense. For various complex reasons, he attempts to follow Walker's trail and to investigate his criminal past. That investigation threatens to unearth some long-buried secrets and also threatens the security of some ruthless, highly placed people.
Milo's quest, which seems simple at first, widens exponentially, gradually encompassing a vast, interconnected web of lies, crimes, and betrayals that reach back 20 years into the past. His inquiry takes him from Texas to Las Vegas to Montana and involves a vividly drawn cast of characters on both sides of the law. Among them are a corrupt district attorney and his lethal twin, a multimillionaire with a questionable past, a slightly kinky acupuncturist, and a number of Milo's own closest associates. In the course of his investigation, Milo nearly dies on a number of occasions, ingests heroic quantities of alcohol and cocaine, and endures more physical punishment than most of us will ever experience. By the time the last shot has been fired and the final secret illuminated, the 60-year-old Milo has changed for good, becoming an old, virtually unrecognizable man.
The Final Country is a lurid, over-the-top account of violence, retribution, and greed. In lesser hands, it might have collapsed into parody, but Crumley holds it together with his effortless mastery of setting, character, and mood, his drop-dead accurate dialogue, and his rhythmic, flexible prose. (Bill Sheehan)
Bill Sheehan reviews horror, suspense, and science fiction for Cemetery Dance, The New York Review of Science Fiction, and other publications. His book-length critical study of the fiction of Peter Straub, At the Foot of the Story Tree, won the International Horror Guild's award for best nonfiction book of 2000.