Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Book Reviews: From political histories to bad comics, to bad comics of political histories. And the occasional rant about fiction and writing.

Mimsy Review: Bordersnakes

Reviewed by Jerry Stratton, September 6, 2001

My father, trapped in a bad marriage, in love with another bad woman, had shotgunned himself before I was a teenager. My mother hanged herself with her queen-sized panty hose at a fat farm in Arizona while I was a teenager in the Korean War.

Two crazy private investigators and long-time drinking buddies snort their way across Texas in search of a missing financial advisor, a mysterious woman, and three million dollars.

RecommendationPossible Purchase
AuthorJames Crumley
Length320 pages
Book Rating6

Milo Milodragovitch and C. W. Sughrue (Sug as in sugar) are two private eyes on the downhill side of fifty and looking at what they hope to be their last case. C. W. has already moved into the middle of nowhere, Texas with an adopted kid and new wife. Milo’s looking for the man who stole his life’s fortune: over three million dollars that was supposed to become his when he turned 53. And the only person he can trust is an old friend whose idea of a welcome is to dress up like an Apache and hold a knife to any visitor’s throat.

C. W. has a right to be paranoid; he’s in the middle of nowhere after surviving an attempt on his life from an unknown source. He almost died, and he doesn’t want to almost die again. But he’s been having second thoughts about living the rest of his life in fear of an unknown killer, so when Milo shows up on his doorstop, and after he puts a knife to Milo’s throat, he agrees to help Milo find the man who stole his money, if Milo will help him find the people or person who wants him dead.

These are apparently characters who, up till now, have been in separate books by Crumley. There is a passing reference to at least one earlier work, “The Mexican Tree Duck”. I haven’t read any of Crumley’s other books, but “Bordersnakes” stands on its own. It references previous adventures, but does not rely on them. (Though I have no doubt that those who are familiar with Milo or Sughrue’s previous adventures will see things I did not.)

Milo’s doing pretty well financially--because he doesn’t care about anything anymore. He’s dedicated his life to finding the bastard who stole his father’s money.

I sold everything he didn’t steal. The office building, the bar, the rent property. Everything. I’ve got enough money to chase him for a couple of years. After that... who knows? Maybe I can sell the Caddy...

The two friends travel through Texas, Mexico, and California, meeting strange people all along the way. This is a fine piece of writing, nothing groundbreaking but what it does borrow it does well. It’s like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Quentin. Looking on the Amazon site and glancing over the reviews, one person noted it was “a little too convoluted for my tastes”. Yeah. If you don’t like convoluted plots, you won’t like this. It’s not complex, it’s just twisted. Everybody matters. Every passing reference will pass by at least once more. Every woman is there for information, protection, sex, or all three. And nobody can be trusted. Especially the women.

If there is any flaw in the book, it is its heavy reliance on serendipity. But that’s also its movie-like charm.

Of course, between the border of Mexico and Texas, there’s a drug trade involved. Milo is too savvy to realize that anything he does will stop the flow of drugs. As long as there’s money involved, someone’s going to step up to the plate and take the risk. He tells one DEA man who is trying to force him into a dangerous course of action,

Listen buddy, I don’t know what you’re after, but you fucking people make me crazy. You want to win the war on drugs? It’s fucking simple. Take the goddamned money out of it. Legalize the shit. No money, no crime. Declare the war won, and go home.

The DEA agent, of course, knows his job is at stake and calls it “simpleminded liberal bullshit”.

Milo is certainly no stranger to drugs--he’s a heavy drinker despite not having taken a drink in ten years, and rarely turns down good cocaine, good whiskey, good tequila, good brandy, or anything else with alcohol in it, good or bad. At least once he’s juggling driving, talking, and grabbing a beer from the back seat of his cadillac. Political correctness is not his strong point--or anybody’s in this book. Even the left-wing gay newspaper editor could give a rat’s ass for propriety.

The writing is simple and direct, for all that the plot jumps around like Mexican jumping beans. There are almost, but not quite, too many people. I only had to backtrack once to figure out who the hell Milo was fucking. It’s written in first person--by both Milo and Sughrue, who take turns telling the story. A chapter by Milo (who starts it out), then one by Sughrue, etc. It was a bit disconcerting the first time the switch happened, but after that the technique fits just fine.

If you’re a fan of the Tarantino style of hard-boiled fiction, you’re likely to really like “Bordersnakes”. If you don’t like that sort of twisty fiction, you’re likely to get bored and lose track of all the characters and places (Crumley “played fast and loose with the geography” of West Texas and Northern California).

I enjoyed it a lot, and I’m not usually a fan of detective fiction. Like the author who got lost on Amazon, it caught my eye at a local Waldenbooks because of the striking cover, a black Cadillac convertible superimposed over a map of Texas and Mexico. The title was intriguing also. What’s a bordersnake? Other than being human, “nobody knows who they are. And nobody with any fucking sense gives a shit.”

Probably nobody but them give a shit when these two old troublemakers head off into the sunset at the end of the story.


James Crumley

Recommendation: Possible Purchase

If you enjoyed Bordersnakes…

For more about hard-boiled, you might also be interested in Casablanca, Shaft, The Night Stalker, The Seven Samurai, The Usual Suspects, Tokyo Drifter, and The Blowtop.