"This is not my kind of job, man," Montana private eye C.W. Sughrue insists when his psychiatrist pal, Dr. William "Mac" MacKinderick, asks him to find out who surreptitiously duplicated minidisks containing his conversations with seven long-term analysis patients. But, as we soon discover in James Crumley's The Right Madness, this is precisely the sort of investigation toward which C.W. (for Chauncey Wayne) gravitates--filled with violence, sex, despair, and victims at a dime a dozen, not to mention enough booze and illegal drugs to floor a full-grown rhino.
Life hasn't treated Sughrue kindly over the years. Introduced in The Last Good Kiss (1978), this now late-middle-aged, Texas-born redneck and Vietnam vet was left for dead at the end of the Hammett Award-winning The Mexican Tree Duck (1993), and he almost bit it on several more occasions in the revenge fantasy Bordersnakes (1996). As Madness opens, C.W.'s younger lawyer wife, Whitney, has taken new employment in Minneapolis, and he's in serious denial about the consequences of this separation on their marriage. Instead, Sughrue loses himself in MacKinderick's supposedly "easy job"--witnessing a series of gruesome deaths (including the botched hanging of a professor's spouse and an artist's fatal tumble), chasing across the highway-striped West in search of some missing forensic evidence, being physically violated by a "blond giantess from Ukraine," and endeavoring to protect his client's redheaded wife from a couple of licentious FBI agents and her own self-destructive habits. Along the way, MacKinderick's blood-soaked sports car is found on a Washington state Indian reservation, and the doctor is presumed dead. But that only drives Sughrue on harder, as he tries, with help from seductive Butte attorney Claudia Lucchesi, to determine how all the pieces of this puzzle fit together. He's barely more successful at that task than readers will be. But then, Crumley's detective stories have always been stronger on character development, high-caliber action, literary wit, and lyrical exposition than on meticulous plot construction. If you've ever wondered how Hunter S. Thompson might have rewritten Raymond Chandler's The Long Goodbye, The Right Madness provides more than a few clues. Watch out: bad craziness ahead. --J. Kingston Pierce