'Miami Blues' is (I think I'm right in saying) the first of Willeford's Hoke Moseley books - it's the second one I read ('New Hope For The Dead' was the first) which could perhaps have been better organised on my part. This second meeting with Hoke Moseley has confirmed my enthusiasm for him. It's described as "A brutal, thrilling ride, Miami Blues is a classic of Florida crime fiction, revealing the sordid side of the Sunshine State' in the back blurb and that sums the book up quite accurately on one level but doesn't at all reveal the humanity that Willeford brings to his characters.
With Hoke it's not his divorce that humanises him but his false teeth which become something of a running theme throughout the book, it's easy to relate to a man who has false teeth, and easy to like him when his actions may otherwise encourage ambivalence. Basically though Hoke is a decent man who behaves with honesty and integrity - always an encouraging thing - even if he does sometimes break the rules.
'Miami Blues' villain is another matter Freddie 'Junior' Frenger has just got out of prison in California with the advice that he ought to get out of the state if he doesn't want to end up right back in prison. It's advice he takes, stopping only to steal some credit cards and accidentally kill someone. When he reaches Miami he accidentally kills someone else - by breaking their finger - because they've annoyed him. Freddie has no morals at all and no compunction when it comes to using violence, but again Willeford makes him oddly attractive if not very likeable. Perhaps it's because it's inevitable that Freddie is going to come to a sticky end quite quickly that the reader can maintain some sympathy for him, possibly it's because he does whatever he wants and however unpleasant that is we've probably all half wished we could do it at some time or another.
Freddie finds himself responsible for a hooker called Susan, she doesn't seem very bright and she's the sister of the corpse he left behind in the airport so he feels responsible for her. Susan is an interesting character - she seems to be exceptionally dim but as her story unfolds you begin to wonder... Susan went to Miami to have an abortion, it turns out that the father was her brother, who followed her to the city and forced her into prostitution. It's not then very surprising that Susan is seemingly disengaged from her surroundings. When she meets Freddy he offers her a way out - he provides her with the money to stay at home keeping house as long as she doesn't question him which for the most part suits her just fine, the last chapter though demands a re-assessment of Susan and who's been playing who.
Otherwise the pattern is much the same as it is in 'New Hope For The Dead'; a down and dirty look at Miami, lots of tangential detail, and occasionally something really shocking to pull the reader up short. It's a winning formula and I look forward to more.
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