RIP James Crumley

by Rebecca Schmitz

A few years ago at the Montana Festival of the Book a friend and I attended a panel discussion at the Wilma about mystery writing. It featured C.J. Box, Neil McMahon, James Lee Burke and James Crumley.  Near the end, the moderator announced that the authors would sign books in the lobby after the session. I had my copy of The Last Good Kiss; my friend clutched The Mexican Tree Duck. After a short delay, Burke, Box and McMahon were sitting under the shabby gilded lights and red flocked wallpaper (this was before that hideous pastel paint job) in the lobby. James Crumley was nowhere to be found. I remember a few people were having a heated discussion in a corner. One of them broke away and ran out the main doors. He reappeared five minutes later, out of breath. “Crumley headed straight for the bar”, he panted. “Someone’s bringing him back right now.”  

When I got to the head of Crumley’s line about twenty minutes later, he took The Last Good Kiss from my hands. “What the fuck did you buy this for?” he growled.

The death notice in today’s Missoulian includes an observation from one of his friends: James Crumley had “a real hard-nosed exterior”. Maybe so, but I definitely saw a twinkle in his eyes that night.


  1. He visited the noir writing class I took a few years ago from Debra Earling. I had a copy of “The Last Good Kiss” for him to sign, too. I just went and looked — it says, “Patia, good luck with the writing.”

    My favorite memory from that night was when one of the students asked what kind of writing schedule he kept, and he said he went to the bar for a couple of hours, then came home around midnight and started writing.

  2. petetalbot

    Crumley’s seminal work, “One to Count Cadence,” is one of the best books out of Vietnam era writing. “The Last Good Kiss’ will always be great pulp fiction. But “The Wrong Case” is my favorite. It’s all Missoula, slightly veiled, and captures the town and its characters, oh so well.

    He influenced my writing and a great many other, better, writers. He used to call me a ‘Communist’ — it was a compliment — he was a friend. Godspeed, Jim.

  3. goof houlihan

    thought you’d be interested

  4. Thanks, Goof.

    Are you a regular reader of the Review-Journal?

  5. goof houlihan

    What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas…

  1. 1 James Crumley, 1939-2008 « Shakespeare and Co. Booksellers

    […] And a note of remembrance here. […]

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