Saturday, August 3, 2013

Miami Blues

I've been meaning to read Charles Willeford for a long time and when I saw this very attractive Penguin Crime edition for only 9 bucks (one third the price of regular paperbacks in Australia) in my local bookshop I knew that I could resist no longer. I've known about Willeford's bad ass biography for ages: a decorated tank commander with George Patton's Third Army in WW2, a pulp writer, a horse trainer, a bookie, semiprofessional boxer - Willeford was a man's man who drank, smoked and wrote in the old school Hemingway way. I only didn't read him before because Quentin Tarantino kept saying that he was his favourite author and that made me prejudiced against him. Which is a bit silly and immature of me I know.
Anyway I got Miami Blues and unfortunately the book broke 2 of my cardinal crime writing rules almost immediately: 1. It begins with a massive coincidence that nearly destroys the novel's credibility from the get go. 2. It's got a recipe in the end pages. Coincidences and recipes. Not designed to get on my good side there. But luckily these are the only flaws in the whole shooting match. Miami Blues is a wonderful novel: quirky, fun, off centre with a clean, gorgeous prose style that could serve as a model for anyone who wants to break into crime writing. Three characters are at the book's core: Freddy Frenger Jnr: a cheerful psychopath just out of San Quentin, Hoke Moseley a lugubrious detective sergeant in the Miami Dade Police and Susan Waggoner, Freddy's dim witted accomplice girlfriend. The book takes place in and around a Miami which is populated with crooks and eccentrics: some loveable some not. It's definitely a crime novel rather than a detective caper - Hoke does virtually no detecting at all - but that's all to the good as it allows you to relax and have fun. Critic and novelist Steve Erickson puts Charles Willeford up there with Philip K Dick as a genre fiction master and on the basis of this one novel I'd be quite tempted to agree with him. For me what makes Miami Blues so good is the brisk, cheerful, economical plot, the thoroughly convincing and well rounded characters and the palpable sense of place. If you've got those 3 aspects working for you in your crime novel you're not going to go far wrong. 
If you are going to get the book I do recommend getting it in this lovely green collectable Penguin edition which seemingly has been designed specifically for suckers like me. (Penguin undoubtedly realizes that even though you only come in for one book you'll probably leave with half a dozen titles in this series and eventually you'll end up buying all fifty in the set just because they look so nice on your book shelf.)