Invisible Ink: No 218 - Charles Willeford
Sunday 06 April 2014
If anyone thinks writers are bookish, unadventurous souls, here’s Charles Willeford, born in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1919. 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 1944, 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.
One of them remains unpublished because it was “sold to collectors”, although mystery still surrounds this volume, called Grimhaven. Willeford wrote other successful noirs, including the twisty Pick-Up (cover line: “He holed up with a helpless lush!”), but what really set Willeford apart from the pack was his off-centre approach to the genre. Plotting was secondary to the quirky characters, and (especially in Miami Blues) there’s a sense that Willeford wasn’t taking himself too seriously.
That’s not to say he was trivial; his novels touched on class, civil liberties, and survival. Quentin Tarantino cites him as an influence, but so do many others including Elmore Leonard. His work is jazzy, punchy, hard-boiled, precise, but leavened with an amused understanding of the sheer awfulness of human nature.
Three fairly entertaining films were made from his work, but none of them really captured his style. Miami Blues is the essential Miami novel, and sparked the craze for wacky but inferior Florida mysteries. It’s a mean, lean read; squalid and racy, based around the sort of freeform existential narrative that you usually only find on very good jazz albums. Willeford is confident enough to start his tale with a champagne-swilling psychopath forging signatures on a flight, and takes off from there.
The average street price for a Willeford paperback currently stands at around £400. Even though he only died in 1988, and was hugely influential and successful, most of his works are already out of print, but the Hoke Moseley novels are back. The original editions are highly collectable, partly because of their terrific covers.
game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers
North London meets The Exorcist in eerie suburban drama
Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Lucy Hawking: Stephen Hawking's daughter writes impassioned open letter to Katie Hopkins about rights of disabled people
- 2 How the language you speak changes your view of the world
- 3 Russell Brand backs Ed Miliband: 'You gotta vote Labour'
- 4 General Election 2015: 14-year-old boy asks Nick Clegg – 'can you kill Katie Hopkins?'
- 5 Uploading pictures to find out how old you are gives Microsoft the right to post them wherever they want
The C-Word - review: Sheridan Smith shines in a warm, honest adaptation of Lisa Lynch's book about living with cancer
Top Gear: Jodie Kidd, Philip Glenister and Guy Martin 'in advanced talks' to join show
X-Men Apocalypse: First look at Jubilee and Jean Grey played by Game of Thrones star Sophie Turner
American Horror Story: Hotel Angela Bassett set to make 'lots of trouble' with Lady Gaga in season 5
Game of Thrones season 5 episode 4 - review: Sansa is in danger of becoming another footnote in Westeros' bloody history
Over 50,000 families shipped out of London boroughs in the past three years due to welfare cuts and soaring rents
EU asylum policy is 'a direct threat to our civilisation', says Nigel Farage
The Rothschild Libel: Why has it taken 200 years for an anti-Semitic slur that emerged from the Battle of Waterloo to be dismissed?
General Election 2015: SNP and its activists 'openly racist' towards the English, Farage says
General Election 2015: UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power, Labour warns
Schools forced to act as 'miniature welfare states' with teachers buying underwear and even haircuts for poor pupils