“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 Sonoma, California, drinking the heart right out of a fine spring afternoon.”
What an opening sentence. A kicker. Let me say straight out, this is a five star book; it’s just that five-star reads for me mean they need a place on my shelf and a re-read or more. This: this was beautifully written, not an extraneous word but so interestingly, humorously, perfectly descriptive:
“As I ordered a beer from the middle-aged barmaid, she slipped out of her daydreams and into a sleepy grin. When she opened the bottle, the bulldog came out of his drunken nap, belched like a dragon, then heaved his narrow haunches upright and waddled across three rickety stools through the musty cloud of stale beer and bulldog breath to trade me a wet, stringy kiss for a hit off my beer. I didn’t offer him any, so he upped the ante by drooling all over my sunburnt elbow.”
Crumley, and the narrator, C.W. Sughrue, set up an exhausting pace. C.W. is chasing an errant Trahearne for his ex-wife, who wants him back at his place and writing his next Great Novel. Trahearne seems intent on drinking his way across the west in the seediest bars possible, until he lands in this one. A fight lands Trahearne in the hospital, and the sleepy barmaid, Rosie, offers C.W. a job finding her lost daughter while he waits on Trahearne’s recovery and release before escorting him back home. The two detour through San Francisco following a lead. The plot’s a kicker; I did not expect all the places it went to.
C.W. knows how wretched much of his existence is, and his humor lessons the sadness. He also has a fair bit of compassion mixed in with the anger and the bitterness at those that exploit and are exploited. But he’s never far from a drunk, and he’s closer still to a beer and a whiskey. In these days, you did half your drinking while driving. The unencumbered sex, the porn–if you had any illusions about free love, the 1960s, and their aftermath, this will help disabuse them. Drugs? Why yes, it’ll help the booze along.
It took me a long time to finish this book, unusually long for its short length and quality–and for a mystery. All I can say is that it is because of the strength of the writing; out of very clear choices, I’ve stayed far away from C.W.’s world, and to immerse myself in it is both sad and exhausting. It’s like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas written by Raymond Chandler.
“The next morning, the condemned man, who had slept like a child and showered like a teenager preparing for a date, ate as hearty a breakfast as the Holiday Inn could provide, then stepped outside to contemplate the delicate air and the clear blue sunshine of the high plains.”
Sad, beautiful, drunken, funny, tragic; highly recommended.