Hot Springs by James Crumley from Best American Noir of the Century – review

best american noir of the centuryReviewed by Charlie Stella

Guy Gets Girls, Guy Gets Trouble …

Benbow isn’t a rogue. More a decent guy with a history of bad decision making and/or bad luck; an everyman’s badass who was also a good football coach and poker player, Benbow also had a way with the ladies, usually the wrong ladies (for his own good). When he ran off with Mona Sue; a nightmare of a woman already spoken for, Benbow also took a bunch of money attached to her (her cranky old husband’s gelt) and there are some things a man just shouldn’t take from another man.

What happens next (and it ain’t pretty) is the short story, “Hot Springs”, a lusty and violent tale authored by the late James Crumley. Truth be told, I only knew the author’s name from being in the business the last few years and because my writing mentor had been one of Crumley’s fellow classmates at Iowa’s Writers Workshop. Unfortunately, I’d never read any of Crumley’s work before this one—not even The Last Good Kiss. My bad.

Hot Springs is a brutally visceral, unapologetic, story dealing with theft, infidelity, violence, torture and murder(s). If the subject matter doesn’t impress, the writing surely will.

Crumley’s prose are as forceful:

The revenge he planned on R. L. Dark a frozen hell in his heart. But the soft hunger of her mouth and the touch of her astonishing body—diamond-hard nipples, fast-twitch cat muscle slithering under human skin, her cunt like a silken bag of rich, luminous seed pearls suspended in heavenly fucking fire—destroyed his hope of vengeance. Now he simply wanted her. No matter the cost.

as they are mellifluous:

Below the bench the old lodge seemed to settle more deeply into the narrow canyon, as if hunkering down for eons of snow, and the steam from the hot springs mixed with wood smoke and lay flat and sinuous among the yellow creek willows.

In my never-ending quest to catch up on what I should’ve read during my 40 year hiatus of all things educational (while I was growing up), I’ve used the last 14 years to do so. Clearly, I’ve got a lot more reading to do and starting with The Last Good Kiss (or anything this legendary author wrote) seems like a good idea.

I offer this review as a confession of a Neanderthal (or, if you prefer, a macho asshole): “Hot Springs” was my very first Crumley. In my research of the author, it was good to learn he too played football, got into it (fisticuffs) a few times and may well have been a bit of a macho asshole himself. Good on’em.


Charlie Stella is the author of Johnny Porno, Mafiya, Shakedown, Cheapskates, Charlie Opera, Jimmy Benchpress and Eddie’s World.

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