Futzing Around

Will Frears

  • Miami Blues by Charles Willeford
    Penguin, 246 pp, £8.99, August 2012, ISBN 978 0 14 119901 6

Charles Willeford is in a category all of his own in the annals of American crime writing. He is neither glamorous nor pulpy; he didn’t write airport fiction and he didn’t write bestsellers with aspirations to literature. He simply wrote crime fiction as though reporting real life. Hoke, a TV series based on the four Hoke Moseley books he wrote in the 1980s, has just been announced in the US; it will star Paul Giamatti, the shlub from Sideways. It’s really good casting. Willeford is adored by his peers and big-deal crime writers like Donald Westlake and Lawrence Block praise his work. ‘Nobody,’ Elmore Leonard said, ‘writes a better crime novel than Charles Willeford.’ Quentin Tarantino cited Willeford as one of the major influences on Pulp Fiction. There can be something a little suspect about being so well respected by fellow practitioners: the appeal may not extend to ordinary readers. And this is the danger with the Hoke Moseley books: so little seems to be happening that the straight-ahead pleasures of crime fiction are lost. Crime fiction is so dependent on suspense and momentum that Willeford can seem flat, more Carver than Chandler. As a teenager hooked on Chandler, I was given a copy of Carver’s Will You Please Be Quiet, Please for Christmas and was baffled by how different it was from Farewell My Lovely. Reading Willeford resolved that particular difficulty.

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