James Crumley, a crime novelist whose hardened detectives worked cases in dingy Montana bars and other rough hangouts around Big Sky Country, has died after years of poor health. He was 68.

Crumley died Wednesday at a hospital in Missoula, where the former Texan made his home, said William Kittredge, a longtime friend and writer.

Crumley was perhaps best known for "The Last Good Kiss," which Men's Journal last year ranked No. 12 among its Top 15 Thrillers of All Time. The book takes readers into the life of C.W. Sughrue, a Montana investigator who works in a topless bar, is hired to track down an author and ends up searching for a girl missing in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury district.

Crumley wrote "hard-boiled detective" books but made them poetic, said Kittredge, who taught in the University of Montana writing program for 29 years. Crumley joined UM's English faculty soon after he earned a master of fine arts degree from the University of Iowa in 1966.