Sunday, September 9, 2012

New Hope For The Dead - Charles Willeford

When it comes to contemporary fiction I generally feel that if it's worth reading it'll be worth reading in 30 years and I'll wait to see what makes the cut. It's a personal prejudice and probably shouldn't be encouraged  but there you have it, I also feel that now as probably never before there is such a market for reissued books  there's actually a really good chance on not missing out on the good stuff. I've also had a couple of chances to test that theory this summer - first with 'Lace' having it's 30th anniversary re print, and which I thought had aged well being possibly more interesting for coming with a bit of historical perspective.

Charles Willeford is my second opportunity - he sounds like a hell of a character with a career that spanned tank commander, horse trainer, boxer, painter, writer, and radio announcer. He probably did other things too, he seems to have been that sort of man. His Hoke Moseley series (which I've started out of sequence) is set in Miami and written at the end of his life in the mid 1980's, Willeford died in 1988 when he was just shy of 70 and I think his age is worth bearing in mind when considering some of his attitudes.

I wanted to read Willeford because Penguin Modern Classics had decided to re-print him and I've been enjoying Ross MacDonald so much (also discovered through Penguin Modern Classics). The blurb on the back sounded promising without giving much away, but I had read that Quentin Tarantino was a fan, citing Willeford as something of an influence for Pulp Fiction - that probably gives as good an indication of what to expect from him as anything will; if you don't care for Tarantino I doubt the books would appeal either. I like both.

Willeford's detective Hoke Moseley is an ambiguous character. He's balding, a little over weight (though dieting in 'New Hope For The Dead') and somewhere in middle age. He's also flat broke and near homeless thanks to the demands of an ex wife and he's just been landed with his first female partner at work. Ellita Sanchez is 32, attractive, Cuban, and in trouble (the old fashioned kind of trouble that nice girls get in to) quite a bit of the book is about Hoke's attempts to settle into a working relationship with Ellita such as when he tries to work out if he should let her drive... He's been driving because he's the man and the man always does, but then he remembers that his previous, male, partner generally drove because he was better at it and it's always possible that Ellita will be a better driver too - so he decides he should let her have a go. I like this because it's the way we do think about work issue's when the balance changes, and also because Hoke is keen to make the partnership work.

Ellita is an interesting character - she's a feminine woman who's clearly sexually attractive - though there is no will they won't they vibe between her and Hoke - their relationship is strictly platonic, she's also very good at her job, and Willeford has made her successful in her career. There shouldn't be anything remarkable about that but it's somehow surprising to find such a well rounded female character in what is otherwise a very masculine book, and it's one of the things that gives 'New Hope For The Dead' some real class.

The other thing that sets Willeford apart from many authors I read is his trick of throwing in something really shocking from time to time. Shocking as in deliberately disgusting - it will be interesting to see if he continues to mess with taboo's through the rest of the series (I would quote here but am afraid of the spam it might attract). It's effective because it's occasional; just enough to seriously unsettle the unwary reader and set them up for an unexpected sort of ending, not enough to make you feel like you're in Irvine Welsh territory.    


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