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The Final Country    by James Crumley order for
Final Country
by James Crumley
Order:  USA  Can
Warner, 2002 (2001)
Hardcover, Paperback

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Milo Milodragovitch is a the very model of the modern hard-boiled dick, maturing like the good Scotch he guzzles (he's almost sixty), and snorting cocaine as a concession to more recent vices than those enjoyed by Philip Marlowe and his ilk. James Crumley writes very literate noir, and though I'm not a big fan of the sub-genre, I was enticed into this one by lyrical descriptions like 'We chattered as aimlessly as baby birds, until the silver of moon scratched the top of the dark sky.'

Milo is, aside from certain habitual criminal tendencies, a very ethical 'old man', prone to tilting at windmills. He's not religious, commenting 'If you can't teach morality without superstition or hope without false promises of eternal life, brother, the human animal probably has outlived his usefulness', but he is compassionate especially towards the down and out. Milo owns a bar in Gatlin County, where he launders drug money (its source is another story), but would rather be in Montana. The relationship that led him to move to Texas is in the doldrums and he works as a PI as a hobby.

Milo's current investigation starts after he witnesses a killing and tries to save the killer, Enos Walker, from the full extent of Texas justice. Digging up the past, 'an ancient hornet's nest of death and disaster', also stirs up some powerful players in the present, resulting in three deaths, with the local authorities out to get Milo. A reader can get dizzy watching him in action, 'One minute behind bars. The next behind a badge.' Of course there are the obligatory mysterious, beautiful and dangerous women, sex that sizzles and all kinds of tough-talking, hard-living walk-on characters.

The investigator's already battered body picks up more than his quota of new injuries in this episode, but something else sends him on the path of revenge which 'shines like the point of a poisoned dagger, shadows as dark and deep as the barrel of a sawed-off ten gauge double-barrel, and echoes like a tornado's thunder.' Though I lost myself at times in the maze of characters and treachery in the first half of the novel, the second moved quickly into the 'final country', the 'country of lies' and an astonishing grand finale.

If you like noir this is a must read. Even if it's not usually to your taste, try The Final Country for the author's gems of poetic phrase, encountered while exploring with him the seamier side of the human psyche.

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