"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 Sonoma, California, drinking the heart right out of a fine spring afternoon. . ."
It contains the best first line in American crime fiction, and it ends on a note of vengeance so satisfying that only the final pages of MARATHON MAN can rival it. Some of the most beautiful prose in any language or genre dances across its pages. It's funny. Deeply humane. An homage to both THE LONG GOODBYE and ON THE ROAD, it stands inexorably singular in its own right. It's one of the best books ever written about the writing process. It's an ode to the American road and American West, a love song to drinking, screwing, roadside motels, big old automobiles and dive bars. It's the best novel ever written about the '70s.
"It" is THE LAST GOOD KISS by James Crumley and while it may have a peer or two, it has no better. In telling the story of CW Sughrue, a big-hearted, road-worn shamble of a PI, who goes looking for a ten-years-gone runaway named Betty Sue Flowers, Crumley leads us into an entire generation's search for Home as the hopes of the 60s have been replaced by the bottomless hangover of the late 70s. ("The flower children had gone sour and commercial or middle-class, and even the enemy was tired and broken, exiled to San Clemente.") Along the way we meet Abraham Trahearne, the ridiculous but strangely endearing writer, his wife and ex-wife, (one an enigma, the other an asp), a wonderful old bar matron named-what else?-Rosie, an underground network that rescues battered children and battered women, countless lost or corrupted souls, and, of course, the inimitable Fireball Roberts, a stout, none-too-bright English Bulldog with a heart as big as Montana and enough similarities with CW to consider them twins of the soul.
When we reach the end in all its pathos and tragedy, its profound and heartbreaking hope, we close the covers not just on a novel but on a world, indelibly rendered, and an era, indelibly mourned.
What other books define a certain decade?