Best 11 Best James Crumley Books to Add to Your Collection

Check out 11 James Crumley books you will want to read to understand this author well.

Heralded as one of the top crime novel writers of Hunter S. Thompson and Dennis Lehane, James Crumley does not have many novels to his name, but he has several bestsellers. In addition, with two private detective series in his collection of works, Crumley brings a sense of humor to his writing, making the somewhat gory world of crime fiction engaging to read. Crumley has eight novels to his name and three collections of short stories. He also has a screenplay that never made it to the big screen, and he was part of a creative writing experiment that brought together nine authors to write one book, each taking a chapter.

Though he is not prolific, Crumley has contributed excellent novels to the crime genre, and these are some of his most well-known works.

1. One to Count Cadence

Best James Crumley Books: One to Count Cadence
The novel takes place at Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines

One to Count Cadence was the first novel by James Arthur Crumley. Published in 1969, the book tells the tale of Sergeant Jacob Drummel, an Air Force commander who must get a team of unruly men in order. The novel takes place at Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines. As Drummel tries to whip his crew into shape, they get shipped off to Vietnam. The tale shows some of the challenges of army life and how soldiers struggle with their faith in America, even while they serve.

You might be interested in our round-up of the best Jack Carr books and the best Sidney Sheldon books.

One to Count Cadence
  • Crumley, James (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 352 Pages - 05/12/1987 (Publication Date) - Vintage Crime/Black Lizard (Publisher)

2. The Wrong Case

The Wrong Case is Crumley’s first foray into detective and crime fiction. Published in 1975, it is the first book to feature Milton (Milo) Chester Milodragovitch, a private eye hired for a missing person case. Soon after being hired, Milodragovitch realizes he is involved in the wrong case, where everyone is a victim of a crime that has gone unsolved for many years. The novel was well-received as Crumley made his detective a vulnerable, real person, not just a hardened detective.

“All drunks have theories, endlessly tedious arguments, both vocal and silent, to justify their drinking. They drink to forget or remember, to see more clearly or discover blindness, out of fear of success or failure, drink to find a home, and love or drink to get away. Their lives revolve around drink.”

James Crumley
The Wrong Case
  • 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 First Edition, Second Printing 1986. Published by Vintage Crime with different cover art than the first printing.
  • Crumley, James (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 288 Pages - 12/12/1985 (Publication Date) - Vintage Crime/Black Lizard (Publisher)

3. The Last Good Kiss

The Last Good Kiss is the first book in the C.W. Sughrue series, in which Crumley introduced a new detective to his stories. Published in 1979, The Last Good Kiss follows private investigator Sughrue as he searches for a missing girl who had been lost for a decade. Amazon calls The Last Good Kiss “one of the most influential crime novels ever written,” It is a harrowing tale full of intensity and suspense. Through the story, Sughrue becomes obsessed with finding the answer and tracking down the culprit.

“Stories are like snapshots, pictures snatched out of time, with clean hard edges. But this was life; life always begins and ends in a bloody muddle, womb to tomb, just one big mess, a can of worms left to rot in the sun.”

James Crumley
The Last Good Kiss
  • Crumley, James (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 244 Pages - 11/05/1988 (Publication Date) - Vintage Crime/Black Lizard (Publisher)

4. Dancing Bear

Dancing Bear is the second book in the Milo Milodragovitch series, published in 1983. The story opens with Milo working as a security guard, no longer working as a detective. When Sarah Weddington hires him, he starts digging into his past while working on her case. It doesn’t take long before the seemingly easy case turns violent, and Milo finds himself on the run fighting drug trafficking and machine-gun-toting enemies.

You might be interested in our guide on the best Dean Kootz books.

“I have learned some things. Modern life is warfare without end: take no prisoners, leave no wounded, eat the dead–that’s environmentally sound.”

James Crumley
Dancing Bear
  • James Crumley (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 228 Pages - 11/30/1984 (Publication Date) - Vintage Crime/Black Lizard (Publisher)

5. Whores

Whores was published in 1989 and is a collection of short stories and non-fiction by Crumley. It also has a published interview and a work about living in Houston. Fans of Crumley appreciate this novel because it gives a closer look into Crumley’s thoughts. Most of the stories are about damaged men who are looking to find their way in the wild. The stories embrace Crumley’s writing style while not dabbling in the detective fiction genre like most of his novels.

Whores
  • Used Book in Good Condition
  • Crumley, James (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 11/30/1989 (Publication Date) - Dennis McMillan Pubns (Publisher)

6. Muddy Fork and Other Things

In 1991 Crumley published Muddy Fork and Other Things. This is another anthology of short stories and nonfiction works by Crumley. It includes some of the beginnings of his novels, such as “The Mexican Tree Duck,” which is a portion of the next novel he would publish. Many of the stories in this collection focus on people fleeing their past, only to find that they will run smack dab into it in the future. Most stories are set somewhere in the west, and the plots feature the setting heavily.

The Muddy Fork & Other Things: Short Fiction and Nonfiction
  • Crumley, James (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 256 Pages - 10/01/1991 (Publication Date) - Clark City Press (Publisher)

7. The Mexican Tree Duck

Best James Crumley Books: The Mexican Tree Duck
This story sends Sughrue to the West, exploring the country from Montana down to the Texas/Mexico border

The Mexican Tree Duck is the second C.W. Sughrue book, published in 1993. In this tale, a blood-encrusted figurine sends Sughrue in search of a missing woman who happens to be his friend’s mother from the Vietnam War. This story sends Sughrue to the West, exploring the country from Montana down to the Texas/Mexico border. While on the hunt for the woman, Sughrue has to fight the FBA, Mexican outlaws, and good old-fashioned “bad guys,” keeping the suspense moving through the missing person book.

“I make it a policy never to argue with drug lawyers: they have decent arguments and the best drugs.”

James Crumley
Sale
The Mexican Tree Duck
  • Hardcover Book
  • Crumley, James (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 247 Pages - 11/30/1993 (Publication Date) - Mysterious Press (Publisher)

8. Bordersnakes

Crumley did not wait quite as long to publish the third installment of Sughrue’s story. Bordersnakes hit bookshelves in 1996, just three years after the previous book. In this detective novel, Sughrue partners with Milo Milodragovitch to search for a few potential assassins. This makes Bordersnakes book three of both series. Bordersnakes takes the detectives across the Southwestern United States and into Mexico. The story ends with a showdown between a drug lord and the detectives. It has plenty of false leads to keep readers guessing as they work their way through the tale.

“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.”

James Crumley
Bordersnakes
  • Used Book in Good Condition
  • Hardcover Book
  • Crumley, James (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 314 Pages - 11/01/1996 (Publication Date) - Dennis McMillan (Publisher)

9. The Putt at the End of the World

The Putt at the End of the World is a unique work because it brings together nine well-known authors to create one winning book. James Crumley is responsible for one chapter of this book. The story follows the wealthiest man in the world as he invites golfers to play on a secret Scottish course. He tells them that the results of their gameplay will affect the entire world. The real fun of this book is seeing how multiple authors weave together a story that works.

The Putt at the End of the World
  • ISBN13: 9780446676991
  • Condition: New
  • Notes: BRAND NEW FROM PUBLISHER! 100% Satisfaction Guarantee. Tracking provided on most orders. Buy with Confidence! Millions of books sold!
  • Abbott, Lee K. (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)

10. The Final Country

The Final Country was published in 2001. This continuation of the Milo Milodragovitch series was nominated for the Dagger Awards. The book finds Milo running a bar and trying to run a private investigation business on the side. Soon he gets hired to find the killer of a drug dealer, sending him to Montana. In this book, Milo has fallen into hard times, and his bar is a front for money laundering. Thus, he sets off on the detective case to try to clear his conscience. But, as usual, for Crumley’s books, he ends up in a mess as he seeks to untangle a web of lies and criminal activity.

“I’m too young to be that old.”

James Crumley
The Final Country (Milo Milodragovitch)
  • Crumley, James (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 336 Pages - 07/12/2016 (Publication Date) - Vintage Crime/Black Lizard (Publisher)

11. The Right Madness

In 2005, the fourth Sughrue book hit the market with The Right Madness. In this book, Sughrue partners with a small-town shrink who believes a patient ran off with confidential files. What makes this book so intriguing is the quirks and psychological concerns of the suspects. This book is full of twists and people who are living double lives. There are also plenty of murders, which are common in Crumley’s books. You will want to give it your full attention, though, because it has some psychological twists that will keep you guessing.

“I’ll give him this: he didn’t faint when I jerked the pen out of his forearm, poured vodka into the wound, stuffed cotton balls into the hole, then, for the final touch, tied it down with a pair of Lorna’s thong panties.”

James Crumley
The Right Madness
  • James Crumley (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 400 Pages - 12/01/2022 (Publication Date) - HarperCollins (Publisher)

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