James Crumley, The Mexican Tree Duck


James Crumley became and still is a cult figure in the development of the modern American crime novel. This is one of his best novels, his first 10 years and issued in 1993; being one of only 75 numbered and signed copies in a special binding with an appreciation by old friend and colleague Maxim Jakubowski.

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James-CrumleyjakubowskiJames Crumley’s (1939 – 2008) experiences as an army serviceman in the Philippines and in Vietnam provided insights into his later work as a novelist – anti dogmatic, anti-authority, a world where right does not always triumph, it is hard to see what lies ahead and there are always loose ends.  Following the war-related novel, One Count to Cadence (1969) Crumley turned to the frontier crime-adventure story.   He used two protagonist detectives. Firstly, Milton Chester Milodragovitch, known as Milo, is a multiply divorced, hard-drinking, cocaine-snorting womanizer. The second, C. W. Sughrue  is a former Vietnam vet and is similarly a hard-drinking, cocaine-snorting womanizer.  He is introduced in The Last Good Kiss as long ago as 1978 and appears again in this novel and also in The Right Madness (2005).

Crumley had a cult following with those that had a disdain for the tragedy that befell the young soldiers caught up in Vietnam.  He was a collected author before he turned to his detective writing.  The tough borderland territory and bad characters – made more so by  the failing institutions of law and order. He always had a particular cult following in the US and Europe.  It is said that he influenced Michael Connelly, Dennis Lehane and George  Pelecanos.  I would hazard a guess that others were influenced too – one might mention Scott Phillips and James Carlos Blake.  The Mexican Tree Duck was issued in 1993 and received the Dashiell Hammett Award.  James Crumley’s old friend and colleague Maxim Jakubowski was asked to write the appreciation for this edition.

5.00 out of 5

3 reviews for James Crumley, The Mexican Tree Duck

  1. 5 out of 5

    Rating by Tom de Haven on April 4, 2012 :

    “The pleasures of a James Crumley novel (rare pleasures, indeed: This is his first new one in 10 years) derive mostly from the zing of its characters, the bite of its epigrams (”The bear of real life is waiting for everybody”), and a restless, almost manic vitality-prose on amphetamines. When the mix of black humour, violence, and trivia is this persuasive, and the setting is evoked as crisply as the landscape of an Ansel Adams photograph, you scarcely notice (till you’re about 30 pages from the end and begin to scratch your head) that the plot has more holes in it than a road sign used for target practice. Along with most of the bad guys, and some of the (relatively) good ones, logic is a casualty here. Maybe that’s just the point, though: In Sughrue’s world, cause and effect, as well as heroes and happy endings, have long since parted company. This sure as shooting isn’t John Wayne’s Wild West. But it’s probably ours”. Review by Tom de Haven at ew.com

  2. 5 out of 5

    Rating by “Kirkus Reviews” on April 4, 2012 :

    “Crumley’s first novel in ten years is a blast from the past–and not the Eighties, either. Though there’s a case and a client buried here somewhere–biker lord Norman Hazelbrook hires freewheeling Montana p.i. C.W. Sughrue (Dancing Bear, etc.) to track down his vanished mom, Sarita Cisneros Pines, wife of the Republican special envoy to Mexico–both C.W.’s investigative tactics (“Questions and answers don’t mean shit to me,” he says, preferring mind-altering chemicals and sincere, rapid sex with an informative bartender, Sarita’s maid, and an undercover New Mexico sheriff) and the nature of the mystery (rival Mexican gangs swiping witnesses back and forth; links to everybody who ever served with C.W. in Vietnam; dirty drug deals and salted oil wells involving the DEA, the FBI, and lesser government agencies; a zillion double-crosses) give this manic, laid- back picaresque an unmistakably Sixties feel–like an MLA panel on Ken Kesey. Scruffy C.W. is obviously meant to be irresistible this time, and maybe he is, if he’s what you’ve been waiting for”. Kirkus 1993

  3. 5 out of 5

    Rating by Maxim Jakubowski on May 21, 2012 :

    Extract from the Appreciation by Maxim Jakubowski

    “For the growing legion of Meriwether unconditionals (think of us as the hardboiled version of old Sherlock’s Baker Street Irregulars), its’s been a mightily long wait since James Crumley’s last novel. Ten years, to be precise, since Milo Midodragovich last graced the melancholy pages of Dancing Bear. And now at last comes The Mexican Tree Duck (both a wonderful title, and a plot device that pays homage to The Maltese Falcon in its MacGuffin-like significance), poignant as ever like the colour of the Montana skies at dawn and, like all good things, a long time-a-coming. Four crime novels in 18 years is a meagre offering to the thirsty gods of mayhem and noir, but when they are of the quality of Crumley’s, all else is forgiven. He is a man of few printed words, but much emotions, a rugged individualist whose writings some time appear inseparable from his life. But in the books he has given us, few as they may be, every line, every image, every lost soul of a character counts, and remains in the reader’s memory forever like a carefully-etched scar of intense despair and affection. According to American editor Bill Malloy, “Critics say that what Raymond Chandler did for Los Angeles in the 30’s Crumley does for the roadside West today”. And indeed, how better to describe The Mexican Tree Duck than bluntly say it is a modern western, a gun blazing epic where heroes long past their prime seek a personal grail, where people bleed and suffer in a heartbreaking manner, where the bodies of women are warm and marked and love is often a desperate quest for survival, where a thick veneer of cynicism only serves to hide the sheer comic absurdity of life in the great American West”.

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