It bears a lot of similarity to some of his earlier books and is every bit as compelling, disturbing, and darkly funny. In some ways, its among his best books. But what is most striking about it is what it represents. But that novel, and success, came late in Willeford's life. When he was asked to write a sequel to capitalize on his newfound fame, he did the unexpected. He wrote a book in which Hoke leaves the force, moves into a drab apartment, and works in his father's hardware store.
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Can a self-diagnosed sociopath be at the same time an intensely moral person? Photo: David Poller. Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time. That sounded good to us. We were starved for company down there, and I welcomed the opportunity to spend a little time with a writer whose work I very much admired.
Dennis showed up with Charles and Betsy in tow, and the five of us sat around talking and then went out for a meal. He never did. In hospital language a patient does not urinate, micturate, pee, piss, or take a leak. He voids. Or, as in my case, he is unable to void. Hospital jargon is mid-Victorian. My hemorrhoids were not chopped out, hacked away, or operated upon.
Instead, my asshole was dilated and debrided. There is no sex talk in a hospital either. Sex organs, male and female, when they are mentioned at all, are discussed formally, as elimination tools; nor is there, apparently, any distinction made between toilets for men and women Unsurprised at the time, I filed the information away, thinking I might be able to use it in a novel some day.
I have been sorry since that I failed to press my friend for details. On the disinterested outside, I had no reason to disbelieve him. He would have had to draw them a picture.
Something dry and clinical? Something impersonal? At some point during our lunch, Charles fixed an eye on me and began talking about people who ate cat. There was, he said, an informal worldwide society of men who had eaten cat, and they looked for and acknowledged one another.
Charles seemed to find the admission disappointing. I wonder what he meant. Was there a sexual undertone to all of this? I just did a Google search and learned more about the subject of human consumption of cat meat than I ever wanted to know, and my guess, after all these years, is that Charles found the topic interesting enough to toss into the conversation, just to see what came back.
And did Charles ever eat cat? I suppose I should have asked him when I had the chance. I saw Charles two or three times after that—at the Miami Book Fair, and again in Key West, where we both took part in a literary symposium in January, The topic was "Whodunit?
The Key West event was just about the last thing I did in Florida before taking leave of the state. Within a month, Lynne and I had closed our house and took off for two years without a fixed address.
Finally, on St. Meanwhile, Charles Willeford had died—in Miami, on March 27, We were out of reach in that pre-email, pre-cell-phone era, and so it was months before I learned he was gone. So in that sense the news was not unexpected. But it was shocking all the same; when one meets with so clear and distinctive a voice, one expects it to be around forever. Charles had left a fifth Hoke Moseley novel, an impossibly dark novel, in which either Hoke killed his two daughters, or died himself, or both.
And the book would eventually be published, or was deemed too dark to be published, or This is not uncommon, both before and after the death of a popular writer, especially one with a beloved series character. Several years before John D. The rumors increased when John D. Yes, he had indeed written such a book! Yes, it had black in the title! Yes, McGee died on the last page!
Yes, it would be published! Once in an indigo moon, the rumor proves true. Decades before her death, Agatha Christie wrote not one but two novels for posthumous publication, signing off on both Jane Marple and Hercule Poirot.
The Willeford rumor persisted, and it turned out to be partially true. I read it right away, and saw at once that it was not intended as a fifth Hoke Moseley book but as a sequel to Miami Blues , a sequel Willeford did not at all want to write. Miami Blues , which introduced Hoke Moseley, got a very strong and favorable response from the critics, drew a lot of attention to its author, and sold well. The publisher, not too surprisingly, wanted Willeford to write a sequel, and indeed to make Hoke a series character.
Should it surprise us to learn that Charles Willeford, whose characters constantly exhibit quirky, contrary, self-defeating behavior, should balk at the notion? So Charles knocked out a book designed to nip the series in the bud. Do you think I should have prefaced this with a spoiler alert? Well, too bad. The publisher had his way, and Grimhaven went back on shelf, and soon enough Charles had produced an eminently successful sequel to Miami Blues , with the magnificent title of New Hope for the Dead.
Charles Willeford took writing very seriously, and applied himself to it wholeheartedly for some 40 years. He started out as a poet; his first book, Proletarian Laughter , was a collection of poems.
He began publishing paperback fiction while serving his second hitch in the military, and kept at it, and worked hard at it.
With the Hoke Moseley novels, he got a taste of the commercial success that had for so long eluded him. When I learned of his death, I was struck by the irony of it; he was just beginning to get somewhere, and the Fates took him out of the game.
You could even call it Willefordian. It made it very clear to me how the man was able to consistently create wildly idiosyncratic characters. He came by it honestly; their quirks were his. The cheerful old man in Sideswipe , taking his daily constitutional walk through his suburban neighborhood, meeting and greeting his neighbors, even as he sets about poisoning all their dogs. Their origins become clear—well, clearer, anyway—when you read I Was Looking for a Street.
It never seems to have occurred to Willeford to be embarrassed about anything, or about sharing anything with the reader, all in the most matter-of-fact manner. This lack of embarrassment, I should note, extended to his early career as a writer.
His books for years were published by third-rate soft-porn houses like Beacon. But he promised it to his friend—even though the friend knows nothing of the promise.
It was at the end of the memoir that I found what seems to me to be the key to Charles Willeford and his work. He supplies a sort of coda to the work, a poem in which he takes to task his absent father and blames him for making him grow up a sociopath.
Willeford a sociopath? But does a sociopath ever recognize himself as such? And can a self-diagnosed sociopath be at the same time an intensely moral person? Can one be a sociopath, virtually unaware of socially prescribed morality, and yet be consumed with the desire to do the right thing?
That strikes me as a spot-on description of just about every character Willeford ever wrote. How could he come up with characters like that? My God, how could he help it? I intend to. I think it will illuminate the work, and thus shed a little more light on the man himself. I wish I could have known him better, and longer. This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Fall Issue Toggle Navigation.
Charles Willeford. Lawrence Block. Fat chance. Wrong, wrong, wrong, and wrong. Current Issue. Table of Contents. At The Scene. Order This Issue Subscribe. Give A Gift.
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A blog dedicated to reviewing crime novels published by independent presses everywhere. Nathan, I love this book. Easily the grimmest crime novel I've come across. I look at it more as fitting with a longstanding Willeford theme--namely the lengths a true artist will go to to remain true to his art, as well as the unwillingness of a true artist to compromise and the disastrous effects this causes. Anyway, a great book.
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Aged 13, he boarded an LA freight train during the Great Depression and travelled along the Mexican border under an assumed name, becoming a role model for rebellious children everywhere. After being stationed in the Philippines as a US Army fire engine driver, he became a tank commander, won awards for bravery at the Battle of the Bulge in , and enjoyed a long military career, but also became a published poet. He lived in Peru, then re-enlisted and served for two years in Japan. Upon leaving the military this self-styled sociopath, with absent-father issues, moved to Miami and made his name as a noir novelist, creating five Hoke Moseley novels, each better than the last, including the wonderfully titled New Hope For The Dead.