Compared with the output of many mystery-fiction authors, James Crumley’s publications were limited. After the publication of his first novel, One to Count Cadence, in 1969, he produced only two or three novels per decade. However, Crumley has had an immense impact on the genre of detective fiction.
Perhaps partly because Crumley’s first novel was a mainstream book about the military, his detective novels have been afforded the critical respect and reception more typically associated with literary fiction. During the 1980’s Random House printed his books in the Vintage Contemporaries line, dedicated to showcasing rising literary talents like Richard Ford, who later won a Pulitzer Prize, and short-story writer Raymond Carver. As a result, Crumley developed a serious readership beyond the ranks of mystery aficionados. Furthermore, his mystery novels managed to both update and subvert the genre parameters within which they were operating. His detectives abused drugs and were respectful to women but also libidinous; the increased level of violence, and occasionally the absurdity of its abundance, in his books reflected a new take on the genre.