Created by James Crumley (1939-2008)
"Son, never trust a man who doesn't drink because he's probably a self-righteous sort, a man who thinks he knows right from wrong all the time. Some of them are good men, but in the name of goodness, they cause most of the suffering in the world. They're the judges, the meddlers. And, son, never trust a man who drinks but refuses to get drunk. They're usually afraid of something deep down inside, either that they're a coward or a fool or mean and violent. You can't trust a man who's afraid of himself. But sometimes, son, you can trust a man who occasionally kneels before a toilet. The chances are that he is learning something about humility and his natural human foolishness, about how to survive himself. It's damned hard for a man to take himself too seriously when he's heaving his guts into a dirty toilet bowl.
-- The Wrong Case (1975)
MILO MILODRAGOVITCH is an alcoholic, redneck good ol' boy sometime private eye who hails from Meriweather, Montana, with a taste for mind-altering substances, high-powered weaponry and a definitely non-linear approach to detective work.
Gee, doesn't that sound a lot like Crumley's other Meriweather gumshoe, C.W. Sughrue?
In fact, although they never appear in the same novel until 1996's Bordersnakes, they wach frequently mention a former, nameless partner and now-and-then drinking buddy. It's not too hard a stretch to believe they're referring to each other here. And Crumley himself admits that C.W. and Milo "are friends, actually," in the Winter 1994 edition of The Armchair Detective. You could look it up...
Still, there are differences. Both are veterans, but Milo did his time in Korea, while Sughrue did his stint in Vietnam. Sughrue was court-martialled for unintentionally killing an entire Vietnamese family. Whereas Milo is a basically a kind, generous guy, a bit smarter, a bit gentler, a bit less inclined to violence, more contemplative than C.w., and prone to spouting barstool wisdom. Crumley more than once acknowledged that "Milo is my good side, Sughrue's the bad."
But they share something else that's more important. Their adventures are both rendered in Crumley's spare, poetic prose style, full of wide open spaces and busted dreams, bittersweet and heartbreaking as a sad country song you've been carrying in your head for years. Crumley's books, in fact, are among the most-respected private eye novels of the last forty or so years and Crumley quickly earned a reputation as one of the foremost writers of private-eye fiction. The Last Good Kiss, featuring C.W., is pretty much considered a classic of the genre now, and The Mexican Tree Duck, also featuring Sughrue, received the 1994 Dashiell Hammett Award for Best Literary Crime Novel.
Not that the books featuring Milo aren't equally great. The Wrong Case (1975) is, in my opinion, one of the best books on alcoholism and addiction I've read, a booze-soaked riff on Ross Macdonald's Lew Archer that ranks right up there with Block's Eight Million Ways to Die, and Dick Lochte, in our The 14 Best Private Eye Novels of All Time in 2012, said of Dancing Bear (1983), Milo's second case: "There's a dark humorous undercurrent running though this hardboiled novel that makes me prefer it and its cynical, coke-snorting, schnapps-slugging hero, Milo Milodragovitch, to what is generally accepted as the author's best work, The Last Good Kiss."
-- J.M. Hayes, author of the Mad Dog & English series
Report respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.
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