(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Charles Willeford’s colorful career, which included military service, university teaching, journalism, and writing, crested during the 1980’s, when his Hoke Moseley crime novels, set in Miami, gained both critical and popular acclaim. However, success came late to Willeford, and he died only days after the release of The Way We Die Now, the fourth and last novel in the Moseley series. Known as the father of the south Florida crime novel, Willeford captured the sun, sleaze, and violence of the Miami region, inspiring other writers such as Carl Hiaasen and James Wilson Hall as well as film director Quentin Tarentino, who compared his film Pulp Fiction (1994) to Willeford’s work.

Willeford’s unique style combined black humor, satire, and touches of the absurd with startlingly real and abrupt acts of violence. His characters, whether heroes, antiheroes, or villains, offer the reader a skewed yet oddly convincing worldview. Willeford readers learn to expect the unexpected. In the first chapter of Wild Wives (1956), one of Willeford’s early pulp novels, private eye Jacob Blake fends off a surprise attack in his office—but the attacker is a teenage girl and the weapon is a water pistol. In High Priest of California (1953), another early pulp novel, a car salesman enters a bar, sizes up a stranger, and knocks him cold. “I felt a little better,” he comments as he walks out. The protagonist of Cockfighter...

(The entire section is 433 words.)