Friday, October 27, 2017

Friday's Forgotten Books, Friday, October 27, 2017

 (Read in 2007)
When was the last time you read a book so compelling you couldn't put it down? What was it?
For me, it was this novel. It takes a long time in Pick-Up for the reader to understand the protagonist and what he's all about. Why he's in the fix he's in. Maybe you won't understand the full story until the last line. And yet, Willeford is able to tell his story lucidly, making even the most mundane details riveting.
This is basically a story about two drunks. Why does it work so well? Better for me even than Kennedy's drunks in Albany. Because the characters are interesting, the narrative pull inescapable, the writing excellent.
Even when the plot turns a bit unlikely in the last third--the characters remain true to themselves, so you go along with it.
What turned you on this much?

Sergio Angelini, OMNIBUS, Carter Brown
Yvette Banek, THE PALE HORSE, Agatha Christie
Elgin Bleecker, WOLFSHEAD, Robert E. Howard
Brian Busby, THE NEW APOCALYPSE, John Daniel Logan
Bill Crider, FOUR UGLY GUNS, Ralph Hayes
Martin Edwards, TIME TO CHANGE HATS, Margot Bennett
Curt Evans THE SECOND SICKLE, Ursala Curtiss; THE STAIRWAY, Ursula Curtiss
Elisabeth Grace Foley, UNDER FIRE, Charles King
Richard Horton,  Times Without Number, by John Brunner/Destiny's Orbit, by David Grinnell
Jerry House, THORKOL, LORD OF THE UNKNOWN, Edmond Hamilton
Margot Kinberg, THE MASK OF DIMITRIOS, Eric Ambler
Rob Kitchin, FLASHMAN'S LADY, George Macdonald Fraser
B.V. Lawson, THE CHINK IN THE ARMOR, Marie Belloc Lowndes
Evan Lewis, THE DESPERADO, Clifton Lewis
Steve Lewis/Dan Stumpf. THE GHOST OF OLD MOVIES,
Todd Mason, Various short story publications
James Reasoner, THIRST OF THE LIVING DEAD, Arthur Leo Zagat
Gerard Saylor, WARLORDS OF MARS, Edgar Rice Burroughs
TomCat, GROANING SPINNEY, Gladys Mitchell
Kerrie Smith, HARBOUR STREET, Ann Cleves
TracyK, CLOSE QUARTERS, Michael Gilbert
Westlake Review, ASK THE PARROT 
Zybahn, THE LAMP OF GOD, Ellery Queen


Mathew Paust said...

I had to repost my contribution this week because of Firefox(or Blogger)issues. The new URL is

My apologies!

Elisabeth Grace Foley said...

Checking in a bit late, but I've got one today: Under Fire by Charles King.

Yvette said...

I'm very late today too, Patti - but I was out most of the day. At any rate, my review is now up and thank you very much as always.

Anonymous said...

Been too long since I read anything by Willeford - I do have SHARK INFESTED CUSTARD somewhere but not this one, so will get it. Thanks Patti :)

Mathew Paust said...

Thanks, Patti!

Chris said...

Pretty much everything Willeford ever wrote turns me on (and I pretty much have read all of him, except for some poetry I'm going to get around to shortly)

Pick Up is remarkable, on a lot of levels, and of course you can't explain one of them without giving the game away, which makes it hard to discuss online, since it's a game worth playing, and more than ever now. But I'd rate Cockfighter and The Burnt Orange Heresy even higher, and then there is the utterly unaccountable Black Mass of Brother Springer. I read that, and I don't believe I'm reading it. Well, what I don't believe is that it was published as a cheap exploitation paperback (under a cheesy title) in 1958. (!!!!!!)

Willeford is unaccountable. You know he fought in the Battle of the Bulge, right? He was a highly decorated WWII vet. And when he wrote a memoir about his army days, it was about his early peacetime stint in the Philippines. Not one word did he ever write--fact or fiction--about WWII.

And when he finally had a successful novel--the first Hoke Moseley--did you know he fought like hell when the publisher wanted a sequel. THEN he wrote a sequel (that nobody would publish) in which Hoke goes insane, and becomes a murderer. THEN he finally broke down and accepted his success. A few years before he died.

He broke every rule into little tiny pieces, and pissed all over the pieces. He would do it his way, or not at all.

Compared to him, the Beat Poets were staid middle class conformists.

pattinase (abbott) said...

The Hoke books are about the funniest series in cf I have ever read. I have never read a book by him, I didn't like.
I think an awful lot of soldiers can't take about the wars they fought in. So perhaps that.

Charles Gramlich said...

The girl on the train was really compelling to me, even though I'd seen the movie

Chris said...

Willeford could face almost anything. He did write a lot about violence--horrible violence. Unsettling violence. He wrote about the military a fair bit--but never about actual combat. Maybe crime fiction was his outlet for that kind of story. And as you say, some soldiers just don't want to talk about their combat experiences.

Still, to have published two volumes of autobiography--one of which is about his early days in the much smaller volunteer army America had between the world wars--and to never have even tried, that we know of, to write about the (admittedly very well covered) battles he fought in, and was decorated for. Odd. He was nothing if not odd. He wrote about odd people. As well as anyone ever did.

I find the Hoke books more poignant than funny. So much pain in there. But the thing about Hoke Moseley is, no matter how much something hurts him, he'll never admit it. You remember the final line in the final book? Sums it up beautifully. Some people just don't allow themselves to cry. And maybe Willeford couldn't have written about WWII--and the buddies he lost--without crying. So he didn't write about it. Just a guess. He could write about being a hobo during the Depression, and that must have been painful as well.

The funniest crime fiction novels are still mainly by Donald Westlake, I'd say. But Willeford, though far less prolific, had his own unique approach to the absurd.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Yes, Westlake is more light-heartedly funny whereas Willeford's has pain in it. I have saved the fourth Hoke book for some future date. Hate to be done with him.

Chris said...

I would say Westlake masks the pain better. He seems more light-hearted, but it's well-crafted illusion. Westlake was determined to make his living as a writer, something Willeford was unable (or unwilling) to do for most of his life. Westlake worked at finding a via media between what he wanted to write and what the public was willing to read. A study in contrasts, but Westlake is known to have admired Willeford very much. And to have rejoiced when he finally got a bit of recognition late in the day.

Thing is, for all his complexities, Willeford is easier to know than Westlake, because he wrote so much less. Much of Westlake's best work is out of print, and hard to find, in spite of the popularity of his series fiction. Westlake was far more versatile in style and subject matter (more than almost anyone you can name). But Willeford is, shall we say, purer. More focused. And he takes more risks. (Again, more than almost anyone you can name.)

There is a fifth Hoke book, of course. The second one he wrote, and was persuaded not to publish, for which we should all be grateful. There are echoes of it in the third one. I haven't read it (only available as a bootleg xerox, and that with difficulty, the estate has forbidden its publication). It's oddly reminiscent of the final Harlem Detective novel of Chester Himes, that he also opted not to publish, which I also have not read. Maybe someday. Perhaps all truly complex writers have within them a certain impulse for self-immolation.

There is, for me, a certain fascination in the five writers collected in the Library of America anthology of 1950's crime fiction. Thompson, Himes, Highsmith, Goodis, and Willeford. Whoever put that anthology together knew their business.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Keep meaning to read Himes. Have at least tried the others.

Chris said...

A lot of his books aren't crime fiction. He started out writing in a similar vein to Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin, etc.

However, the American literary establishment was only going to pay serious attention to one or two black writers at a time. The slots were already filled. Himes wasn't getting any traction, in spite of some prominent champions.

So living in France, he got an offer to write "Policiers," and he turned out to have a real knack for it. As is the case with a lot of series characters, Grave Digger and Coffin Ed start out as supporting characters in the first book, but they kept coming back, for a total of eight. (Plus the last one that wasn't published in Himes' lifetime). The books, true to their name, all take place pretty much entirely within the boundaries of Harlem.

Nine crime novels isn't very prolific, by the standards of this genre (22 books total, including his two volume memoirs)--but he has no superiors in it. It can be questioned whether he has equals. As Westlake once put it, "The only Sixties mysteries with any merit at all were written in the Fifties by Chester Himes." Westlake wrote at least half of his best novels in the 60's. So that's a very large statement to make. Granted, this was in a mock-interview he conducted of his various pseudonyms, so it needn't be taken 100% literally. Still quite sincere in the compliment being given.

Willeford also admired the hell out of Himes. And Patricia Highsmith knew him socially, from a time they both lived in an artists' retreat. I would not go so far as to say they were friends. Neither was easy to get along with. A lot of jagged edges sticking out.

What they all had in common was that they took a genre meant for light entertainment, and kept finding ways to expand on it. While still being damned entertaining.