Ignore your reading list

The way we die nowWriters and readers are always bitching about the size of our to-be-read (TBR) piles.

I’m not sure if it’s related to the fact that there’s more books available, if they’re easier to access electronically or via on-line bookstores like Booktopia, or whether social media means we just need something to talk about, to look busy, so hell, why not talk about how we’ve just added another book to our TBR list.

Whatever, the upshot is it’s rare for many of us, well, for me anyway, to find ourselves in a situation where we don’t actually have anything on hand to read and we need to find something quickly. A situation that necessitates departing from our planned reading list and taking a chance on whatever book we can find.

This happened to me last week.

I was in Queensland’s Surfers Paradise for several days on personal business. I’d finished the book I was reading, Dennis Lehane’s excellent Live By Night, a lot quicker than I thought I would. I didn’t have my Kindle or any other reading material with me and there was nothing in the house I was staying in.

So I had to go out and find a book. Quickly.

Now Surfers is not exactly book lover’s paradise but it does have one or two okay second hand bookshops. In one of those I found a copy of Charles’ Willeford’s The Way We Die Now.

I love Willeford and I’ve read all the Hoke Moseley detective novels. So in that respect, I wasn’t stepping too far out of my comfort zone. But it’s been a long time since I’ve read them and I’d forgotten just how good they are.

Moseley is working cold cases for the Miami police when his commander gives him a special assignment, go to the south of Florida and find out who is murdering migrant Hispanic farm workers.

He’s living with his two daughters from his previous marriage and Ellita, his former Cuban female partner on the police force and her young baby. Moseley’s got to juggle cold case leads, with his special assignment and bringing up his two daughters. To top it off, a man he convicted for murder has got out of jail and moved in across the street from his house.

Willeford handling of all of this is masterful. He moves seamlessly between down and dirty action and Moseley’s ruminations on the changing nature of Miami. His writing has a classic fifties pulp feel fused with an off beat hard boiled style.

Moseley is a terrific character, a shabby, cheap skate, misanthropic, old school, right wing cop working in the increasingly multi-ethnic city of Miami in the eighties. He’s the perfect anecdote to so many of the politically correct police appearing in crime fiction these days. Indeed, after reading The Way We Die Now, I think the Moseley books should be used in writing courses on the subject of how not to do a boring police procedural.

On top of all this, it felt fitting reading the book in Surfers Paradise. The city took off in the late seventies as a prime destination for beach tourism and was modelled on aspects of Florida. Every second hotel and motel still seems to feature the words ‘tropic’, ‘villa’ ‘palms’ or ‘casa’ in its title.

New Hope For the Dead was the fourth Moseley book. Willeford died the same year it was published, 1988. A great pity because, if this book was anything to go by, Willeford had plans for Moseley and the series felt like it had a lot more gas left in the tank.

As a result of reading this, I’m going to be dusting off and re-reading my other Willeford books. I’ve also been inspired to find a good bio of the writer. Any suggestions would be very welcome.

And I’m going to be ignoring my TBR pile much more often.

10 Responses

  1. I completely understand. I can never resist a little distraction. Which is why it’s so much fun to go to open-shelves libraries, as you are almost guaranteed to leave with something different than what you had originally planned.

  2. Great review. I often eschew my teetering to-read pile in favour of a book that’s caught my eye! :)

  3. Thanks for this, I’m getting this book now. I keep forgetting about Willeford.

  4. Added to my TBR list. Yes, I know it’s counter to the core message here. That’s how i roll sometimes.

  5. For the biography, the best bet is to read Willeford’s two autobiographical books — I Was Looking for a Street; (and) Something About a Soldier. The one full bio is by Don Herron (called Willeford). I wrote the biographical essay on Willeford for the Dictionary of Literary Biography (which is a standard reference work in the U.S.; it’s in volume 226 (!) – Hard-Boiled American Writers). You can find it online if you can access a Gale database. The Woman Chaser (aka The Director) is probably my favorite Willeford novel.

  6. Thanks for the tips, Doug. Several people have pointed out Herron’s book. I agree, The Woman Chaser is a terrific film. I don’t know why it hasn’t had a re-release.

  7. Have you ever read the unpublished Hoke? Nasty

  8. Col,
    No, I did not know there was any unpublished Hoke books. I’d love to see them, but.
    Andrew

  9. Greta blog, Andrew. I’m a huge Willeford fan. Can I recommend reading Pick Up. It is one of the most brilliant noir reads from the 50s and very different from the equally brilliant Moseley series. It has one of the best final couple of lines in crime writing history. Cheers :)

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