From the Publisher
“Earthy characters, raw language, and exuberantly violent action. . . . The products of a well-honed—and all too rare—art.”—The New York Times
“Road-ready, wry, lyrical, and explosive, this is Crumley at his best, which means it is one of the best books of its kind you will ever read.”
—George Pelecanos, author of The Double
“[Milo is] one of literature’s more interesting sleuths. . . . Crumley once again is in good form, his strong voice ringing true on every page.”
—San Francisco Chronicle
“Crumley . . . is pumped up and writing for his life again. For all his remarkable ease of style, the earthy characters, raw language and exuberantly violent action that distinguish it are the products of a well-honed—and all too rare—art.”
—The New York Times
“James Crumley is an American poet. Like a true artist, he does not merely reflect our culture, he subverts it. The Final Country is simply one of the best books you can read this year.”
“This book is so tight and powerful it could be carved in granite. The plot tends to cruise along with the ease of an Eldorado with a crankcase full of Southern Comfort. . . . He’s not the most prolific American crime writer, but crime fiction aficionados have learned that, like good scotch, Crumley’s novels take a little more time than the ordinary stuff.”
“Reading this book is like drinking exceptional wine after years on cheap stuff. You start to gulp it down, greedy for the buzz, then realize you need to slow down and savor each drop. I pity people who haven't read Crumley. And I envy them, because they still have a chance to discover him.”
“The pleasures of Crumley come from the language, the characters and the unexpected depth of emotion. The language is on display everywhere, not as beautiful and rich as that of Crumley's Montana neighbor James Lee Burke, but just as evocative.”
“If you like your detective fiction tough and tenacious, you will love James Crumley. . . . No one does it better.” —The Houston Chronicle
“James Crumley is a first-rate American writer. . . . pyrotechnically entertaining, sexy, compassionate.” —The Village Voice
The 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.
PI Milo Milodragovich turns a very hammered 60 years old in this energetic, poetic, violent and extremely funny ride, which comes within a belly laugh or two of equaling Crumley's absolute masterpiece, The Last Good Kiss (1978). "The rumors of my near demise haven't been exaggerated," Milo says, "but unfortunately for my enemies, I'm not dead yet." After finally collecting his long-deferred family inheritance (plus a huge cache of loot from the bad guys) in Bordersnakes (1996), the author's previous novel, he seems ready to settle down in Texas, the state with "more handguns than cows." He has a woman he may love, and now owns a bar. Milo, however, just can't let go of investigative work. As he tracks down a wandering wife whose implants have made her the pool-playing terror of many roadhouse, he is on the scene as a gigantic black man named Enos Walker tears into a dive and kills a drug dealer. When Milo asks a couple of questions about Walker, bullets start coming his way, sending him on a cocaine-and alcohol fueled trip for answers that may be 20 years old, hidden behind deception and sex and death, going from Texas to Las Vegas and Montana. Plot twists and details seem loose and easy, yet every thread is sewn tight as a hardball. This is a brilliant achievement, with Crumley returned to his full powers, seeming to say with each assured sentence, Yeah, I'm an old dog, but I still wag the baddest bone. (Oct. 23). Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Even Crumley's reliably sharp writing can't save this novel from its unlikable hero and convoluted plot. P.I. Milo Milodragovitch (Bordersnakes), usually a self-centered and reckless type, spends the entire novel trying to save a fugitive from being unfairly treated by the Texas justice system. Throughout, Crumley provides a steady stream of fighting, dull conversation, and shady but colorless characters. Milo's vices certainly make him a distinctive character in P.I. fiction, but they also make him difficult to care about. Not only is his sex-and-drug lifestyle unbelievable but it quickly becomes monotonous. This is certainly not one of Crumley's better efforts. Still, his wit, his descriptions of the Texas landscape, and the prose in general an excellent example of classic hard-boiled fiction make it worth consideration by public libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 6/15/01.] Craig L. Shufelt, Lane P.L., Fairfield, OH Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
As bored and melancholic as the next Crumley hero (Bordersnakes, 1996, etc.), that restless, rootless, five-times-married, good-with-fists/bad-with-relationships, aging enfant terrible Milos Milodragovitch ventures into a Texas saloon in the wake of a resentful ex-con. For reasons insufficiently clear, Walker, the ex-con, is bent on mayhem, and in record time beats up a patron and blows away the saloonkeeper, thus-also for reasons insufficiently clear-raising himself in Milo's estimation as he watches Walker's rapid departure. Wishing to take up the matter of first-degree murder with him, the cops pursue, requesting cooperation from Milo, who withholds it. More: Milo decides there's a mystery here that deserves all his best efforts to penetrate. As a result of these fateful decisions, he loses his ladylove, finds another, gets on the wrong side of the powerful Lomax family, punches out a seemingly endless variety of targets-big guys, little guys, old guys, a fat lady, a one-armed man etc.-while abusing substances at a pace that leaves Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe, and Travis McGee in the dust. When the smoke finally clears and the dead bodies are shunted out of the way, Milo appears satisfied that his mystery has been well and truly penetrated-this, too, for reasons insufficiently clear. "Evil just exists," pontificates Milo, in the act of slowly, savagely torturing someone to death. "I could only hope it wouldn't infect me." Forget it, Milo. Your only hope is if they call off Judgment Day. Author tour
Read an Excerpt
It was late November on the edge of the Hill Country, but I had learned very quickly that down here nothing was ever quite what it seemed. As I drove through northwest Austin that day, it might as well have been spring. The thin leaves of the pecan trees hadn’t turned. People still mowed their lawns in T-shirts and shorts. Or in this upscale neighborhood, watched various illegal aliens hustle like dung beetles back and forth across the thick St. Augustine lawns through scattershot swarms of gnats. Overhead a brilliant afternoon sun floated in the rich blue sky polished cloudless by the soft southeastern breezes. A single buzzard overhead seemed to be keeping a weathered eye on things. Winter seemed a distant promise, bound to be broken.
Back home in Montana fall already would be hard upon the land, a thick mantle of snow draped across the peaks and high ridges around the Meriwether Valley, the cottonwood branches fingerbone bare, the western larch golden among the dark pines, and the willow aflame along the frost-limned creeks. Of course, back home I would be working my ass off, laying in ten cords of firewood for the winter coming, falling and bucking and splitting pine and fir and alder until my hands bled and my back ached like a heart attack.
This was my fifth fall in Texas, and I had to admit my aging bones hadn’t completely forgotten how to dread Montana winters, although the memories seemed as dim as sunlight dazed by a late spring snowstorm. But when the Caddy’s automatic air conditioner kicked on, I was reminded that nothing was free in this world. The winter price had to be paid in one way or the other. The vents still carried the stench of a bad weekend with my woman down at her uncle’s ornate beach house north of Port Aransas. The air was still thick with the stink of the coastal marshes and mud flats, the spoil banks and tidal pools, the place where everything begins—or ends—where the land rises slowly from the shallow sea like the flesh of a drowned corpse oozing through watery skin. A chase after money and revenge had brought me to Texas, and a woman, Betty Porterfield, had kept me here. But as our love failed, I found myself homesick for Montana more often than now and again.
I was on the job this afternoon, though, so I pushed Montana out of my mind as I cruised toward the southern border of Gatlin County where it nestled like a sluggish political afterthought into the rich, fat software back of northwestern Travis County. Even though I owned a bar the southwestern side of the county, I’d never been in this unincorporated part tucked along the breaks of the Balcones Escarpment. Surrounded by the urban sprawl, this area didn’t even have a name. Lalo Herrera, whose sons managed my bar, had told me that the locals sometimes called it el Rincón Malo, “the Bad Corner.” Whatever the place might be called, though, it was just another un-zoned trashy suburban slum. The limestone slopes were spotted with dusty cedar shrubs, and the narrow potholed street sported two convenience stores on opposite corners wrestling for the beer, bait, and overpriced gasoline concession, and one locker–cum–butcher shop where the local hunters converted their little whitetail deer into dry-smoked sausage or stinky hamburger threaded with hair. Several flashy but cheaply built apartment complexes littered the steep hillsides, surrounding a mobile home park that looked neither mobile nor homey.
Not even the great weather could hide the disorder and deep sorrow here, as the pastoral degenerated into unplanned urban sprawl. I could almost smell the bitter energies of change and failure. And not just the Bad Corner’s. I seemed to be in some sort of downhill tumble myself, going from bad to worse as I stumbled through the transition from a semiemployed private eye to a solid citizen and back down again. A few years before, I had recovered my father’s stolen inheritance, plus a considerable sum of unlaundered drug funds stashed in an offshore bank, and I had real money for the first time in my life. Lots of it.
But it didn’t change my life all that much. Bored and looking for a way to get out of Betty’s ranch house, and perhaps, too, hoping to wash a bit of the drug money, I had gone into business with her uncle, Travis Lee Wallingford, investing in the final stages of an upscale motel, the Blue Hollow Lodge, on the southeastern border of Gatlin County.
I also signed on to own and run the bar in the western corner of the Lodge, the Low Water Crossing Bar and Grill. But my enterprising businessman act had worn thin very quickly. So I drifted back into what I knew best, shuffling through the emotional debris of other people’s lives, telling myself that going back into private investigation was just a harmless hobby—like building sailing ships in whiskey bottles or collecting beer cans—a silly diversion of late middle age. I picked up a Texas license, put up my own bond, and had taken to spending my free afternoons piddling around at detective work. Mostly pissant jobs no self-respecting private investigator would take.
One of these jobs had brought me to the Bad Corner and a flagstone-and-barnwood beer joint called Over the Line, even though the faded sign painted on the sideboards still clearly stated that it had originally been called Duval’s Place. A shy, middle-aged high school teacher up in Burnet County had offered me five hundred dollars to find his young wife, Carol Jean, although I suspected that Joe Warren didn’t want his young wife back as much as he wanted something to show for the retirement fund money he had squandered on her orthodontics and breast implants. At least that was the impression I had gotten when he showed me her picture. Carol Jean had one of those narrow but pretty country faces—large, over-painted eyes and full red lips smiling bravely around an overbite only slightly restrained behind a field of barbed wire—all of it tucked like a child’s Easter egg into the tangled nest of her big, blond hair. The half-moons of her new breasts peeked shyly over the neckline of her blouse, and her sly, metallic smile suggested that these new babies had changed her from a skinny high school girl into a woman with whom to be reckoned. In the six years since Carol Jean had graduated from high school and married Joe Warren, instead of looking pretty, canning peaches, and popping kids for Baby Joe, she had worked as a hairdresser, cocktail waitress, legal secretary, and a kick-boxing instructor at a health club. But the only thing that her heart really fancied was hustling pool in afternoon beer joints. Sometimes at Over the Line. Information that six margaritas and a line of bullshit had bought me from Carol Jean’s hairdresser mom.
As I pulled the El Dorado into the parking lot beside three pickups and a battered Suburban, I tossed my sunglasses into the glove box with my S&W Airweight .38, then locked it. I had taken a spent .25 round in the guts some years before, lost eighteen inches of intestine and much of my fondness for sidearms. I hadn’t carried a piece very often since then. If Carol Jean was here today, I could only hope she wouldn’t shoot me. Or bite me. Or hit me with her new tits.
But before I could ease out of the sour mood and the El Dorado, a black Lincoln Town Car with Oklahoma dealer tags slid into the lot with locked brakes, raising a veil of dust that almost obscured the fine afternoon. The black guy who stepped out of the Town Car wasn’t any larger than a church or any more incongruous than a nun with a beard. Six nine or ten and an iron-hard two-ninety. Above his dark shades, his shaved head gleamed coppery and metallic like the jacket on a high-powered rifle round. His black leather pants rippled like a second skin and his bloused red shirt announced itself like a matador’s cape. And the way he walked across the lot shouted “yard boss,” as if he had survived a ton of hard time somewhere and was damn sure ready to do it all over again.
When the big guy slammed through the swinging doors of the beer joint, the hinges squealed and the doors flapped like sheets in a rising wind. I thought about postponing my quest for Carol Jean. But, as usual, once I had started looking for somebody, I made the mistake of feeling vaguely responsible for them. So I climbed out and headed for the joint. Before I got there, though, I heard a nasal drawl, shouting, “Watch out, you fuckin’ nigger!” And moments later large Chicano kid streaming blood from a pancaked nose tumbled out of the joint, staggered to his feet, then ran for the safety of his pickup truck. When I reached for the doors, Carol Jean crashed into my arms, her salty new tits as hard as the custom cue clutched in her hands. Dressed in skintight jeans and a tank top that could have been painted on her torso, I assumed her opponents spent more time watching Carol Jean than the table. She was taller than she looked in her photograph, and without braces, prettier, too, but I had been right on about the attitude. She turned, raised the cue like an axe, and headed back into the beer joint.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” I said.
“And why the hell not?”
“There won’t be enough of you left to fuck, sugar,” I suggested. “Besides, you’re holding it all wrong.”
But Carol Jean wasn’t having any of it. Where reason fails, try money. I slipped a twenty off my money clip, handed it to her.
“Just wait over there by that Cadillac, and I’ll give you another one when I come out.”
Still Carol Jean hesitated, her head cocked like a fairly bright chicken, until a redneck kid flew out of the front window and landed like a sack of shit in a pile of broken glass.
“Hi, Vernon,” she said calmly, but the kid wasn’t up to answering. “Okay, man,” she added to me, “I don’t know what you’re dead body.” Then she laughed, a sound as shrill as worn brake pads.
“Thanks for the vote of confidence,” I said, hitched up my jeans, arranged my mouth into my most beguiling smile, and sauntered into the shadows like a dumb tourist.
The bar had been built into the slope, giving it two levels: pool tables and booths on the lower level in front, a short bar and half a dozen tables about four feet higher in the back. The large black gentleman hadn’t quite made it to the upper level yet. Another sizable black guy in a Dallas Cowboys jersey leaned over a pool table, leaking blood and broken teeth onto the felt—the big guy seemed to be an equal opportunity disaster area—and a rat-faced beer-joint cowboy had a cue raised over his head, his narrow mouth curled in contempt, but when he brought the cue down, the big guy casually blocked it with a muscular forearm. The cue snapped briskly, and the handle weight spun out to slam the already damaged Cowboys fan in the forehead with a sound like an egg dropped on a sidewalk. He disappeared behind the pool table as if shot. The cowboy grinned apologetically, then dashed past me as fast as his tight jeans and high-heeled boots would let him.
“Next time use it like a bayonet,” I suggested as the cowboy stumbled past, “not a club.”
“You must not be from around here,” the big guy said softly. “Most of these Texas assholes are dumber than hammered dogshit.”
“Nobody ever accused me of being from around here,” I said as I stepped up to stand beside the big guy, who loomed over me like an unstable rock outcropping.
“Whatever,” he said, slapping me on the shoulder hard enough I to make my knees flex. But the huge hand on my shoulder was polite instead of insistent. “Let’s you and me have a drink, old man.”
It’s the hair, I thought. Several white streaks had appeared after a bad session with a bunch of contrabandistas a few years before. I’m not as old as I look, I started to say. But I could tell that the big guy wasn’t interested. So I followed him up the short stairway, where we leaned against the bar.
“I don’t mind a little whip-ass, when it’s deserved,” the chubby bartender said as he leaned on the bar, “and that Meskin kid was way outa line.” He was a soft, round-faced man with a fat, bald head. “I don’t want to have to call the law,” he maintained stoutly. But I suspected he had delivered this line a few times before without success.
“Just shut the fuck up,” the big guy said as he set his shades on the bar, “and pour us a drink. I ain’t had time for a peaceful drink since I left Tulsa this morning. How about a couple of handfuls of that Crown Royal over a little ice.”
The bartender found two water glasses and filled them with ice and whiskey. The big guy nuzzled his drink for a second, then poured it down his throat. I nibbled around the edges of mine.
“Goddamn that was good, man,” the big guy said, then he noticed my drink. “Come on,” he said, laughing and dropping his hand like a grubbing-hoe handle on my shoulder. If he wasn’t careful, the big son of a bitch was going to kill me with affection. With his shades off, his eyes were an oddly gray shade of light blue, shining like tiny bulbs on either side of his hooked nose. “When you drink with Enos Walker, man, we don’t allow no sipping.”
You might as well argue with an avalanche, so I dumped mine down my throat, too, though I didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as Enos Walker had.
“Set us up again, bartender,” he said, “then I want to have a word with somebody who knew that fuckin’ Duval.”
The bartender’s hand shook a little this time as he poured, then he rubbed his sweaty head as if it had suddenly sprouted hair. “Ah, Mr. Duval ain’t been here for some time . . .”
“I just been in jail, motherfucker,” the big guy said as he held up his second bundle of whiskey, “not on the moon. Who the hell’s in charge these days?”