Is it the drugs? Is it the guns? Is it the melancholy of an old cowboy song? I don’t know why I love James Crumley, but I do. Suffused with mortality and longing, violence and sexuality, Crumley’s mysteries buck and run like wild mustangs trapped in the pen of two covers. Final Country, his latest featuring the bruised sleuth Milo Milodragovitch, has everything you’d expect from Crumley—lyrical evocations of Montana and Texas, an antihero driven by his own moral code, coke-fueled violence, but also convoluted plotting and occasional laziness.
As the novel opens, we find Milo miserable in Texas—a warm late November that seemed like a Montana summer but was proof that in Texas “nothing was ever quite what it seemed.” Now cash rich but activity poor, Milo has reverted back to his p.i. ways just to take his mind off of his failing relationship with his girlfriend Betty and the boredom, “disorder and deep sorrow” of sprawl-covered Texas. He is chasing a runaway wife when the seedy quiet of an Austin bar is suddenly disrupted by a huge, very angry black man named Enos Walker looking for some people who were either dead or did not want to be found. Shots. A dead man. And Milo must hunt Walker down, not to bring him to justice, but to save him from the death penalty when he is found.
The hunt for Walker turns Milo’s world into a dangerous trompe l’oeil: everything has the appearance of reality but nothing really is. A client in distress is a setup for a hit. An evangelist is just an ex-con in new clothes. And anyone with money in Gatlin County, Texas, save Milo himself, has dark secrets. It is no wonder Milo so often turns to violence to shatter the illusion. It is a violence that for Milo is not inherent in him, but brought about by the actions of others. “Violence was their choice, not mine. So to hell with them.” Of course, the cocaine and the readily available firearms don’t help the situation.
The Final Country tends to the doughy, with macguffins aplenty and many extraneous and underdeveloped characters. Crumley at his best is lean, laconic and strong, like in his earlier Milo Milodragovitch novels, The Wrong Case and Dancing Bear. But any novel by James Crumley is worth reading, and in The Final Country, his voice sounds as big and clear as the Montana sky. It is greedy to ask for more.