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by James Crumley
Viking, May 2005
304 pages
ISBN: 0670034061

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

C W Sughrue is a not so young, hard-drinking, reefer-smoking, pill-popping, semi-retired private Investigator. When his buddy, equally hard-living psychiatrist Will MacKinderick asks him to do a small job for him, Sughrue refuses at first. But Mac presses him with a huge check and promises of drink, and he accepts.

It seems that Mac's office was broken into and information about some of his patients was stolen from the computer. Mac thinks one of the patients must have done it and wants Sughrue to make certain there will be no blackmail of the others. He won't mention who his patients are, but he gives Sughrue a list of names to look at. The first night on the job, Sughrue finds himself covered in blood as one of the people on the list meets a gruesome death. Things slide downhill from there.

Sughrue's wife is away starting a job that's supposed to help her new career and she's taken their son with her. He's alone and finds his past with bad memories, the lure of drugs and alcohol abuse and indiscriminate sex all calling to him. His investigative talents to discover the murderer of Mac's patients don't seem up to the task.

Then Mac disappears, leaving behind a bloody car and a neat pile of clothing at the edge of a high cliff, both pointing to a suicide. But no one who knows Mac believes he took his own life: not Sughrue, not Mac's new, young unbalanced wife, and not Mac's four other ex wives -- another fact that Sughrue didn't have a clue about.

Dark, dreary, filled with regrets and drugged out days and nights, THE RIGHT MADNESS is the 12th installment in the Sughrue series. As a new reader, this is the first of the books that I've read and I can't imagine why anyone is a fan. Sughrue might have been a good PI once, but in this latest story he isn't so much investigating, as constantly waking up from blackouts to find himself hip-deep in trouble.

The lead character admits to being over 50, but time and time again, he manages to spring back from the type of physical beating that would finish a much younger man. Also very strange is that every young woman in his vicinity lusts to get their hands on his body. Right.

Author James Crumley tries to be poetic at times but those moments of polished prose stick out like strangely sore thumbs amongst pages of tepid narration. Though the lead character mouths sentiments of being true to his wife, the violence and sex in this book is tacked on and gratuitous, and as a newcomer to the series, I found that the constant drug and alcohol use reinforces the idea that Sughrue simply isn't up to this, or any, PI job.

The ending is confusing with a sudden appearance of new characters and a quick wrap-up in the final chapter. I got the feeling the writer wore himself out and just wanted to end this story.

A lot of things are sometimes overlooked in a long-term series. Many old fans can forgive it when the story and the characters are not really up for another go round, for they are simply happy to get to read another installment. If you're an old time Sughrue fan, I suppose you'll enjoy this book. If you're new to the series, I'd suggest that you pass THE RIGHT MADNESS for an earlier book. That is, if an unrepentant, drug-abusing, alcohol-imbibing, cannabis-smoking lush is your idea of a great PI.

Personally, I'd rather a lead character who is a bit more sane, sober and competent.

Reviewed by Sharon Katz, October 2005

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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