Miami Blues: A Hoke Moseley Novel by Charles Willeford
originally published 1984
Vintage Crime/Black Lizard, 1st edition, 2004
Genre: Crime fiction
Jacket copy: After a brutal day investigating a quadruple homicide, Detective Hoke Moseley settles into his room at the un-illustrious El Dorado Hotel and nurses a glass of brandy. With his guard down, he doesn’t think twice when he hears a knock on the door. The next day, he finds himself in the hospital, badly bruised and with his jaw wired shut. He thinks back over ten years of cases wondering who would want to beat him into unconsciousness, steal his gun and badge, and most importantly, make off with his prized dentures. But the pieces never quite add up to revenge, and the few clues he has keep connecting to a dimwitted hooker, and her ex-con boyfriend and the bizarre murder of a Hare Krishna pimp.
Chronically depressed, constantly strapped for money, always willing to bend the rules a bit, Hoke Moseley is hardly what you think of as the perfect cop, but he is one of the the greatest detective creations of all time.
Book report: Why the subject came up on one of my news aggregate sites, I still don’t know, but someone there posted a short excerpt from Miami Blues, and I had to read it. And because of that anonymous person, I have a new favorite author. Charles Willeford, I love you. Why I didn’t catch on back in the days of MCBF, I do not know (because I do remember Cockfighter–and its desirability–being mentioned at least once by John Marr), but I shall be catching up posthaste.
Willeford writes hard-boiled crime fiction, but his novels defy the genre. Though Hoke Mosely is a police detective, there’s usually some sort of crime that’s resolved at the end, the novels focus more on Hoke’s day to day existence: the vagaries of bureaucracy, his relationships with women (including his daughters), his lack of funds, and so on. It’s a shabby life, filled with drudgery and aggravation, no glamor to be found. Life is brutal, and the psychotics who wander Willeford’s Miami (slowly transitioning from a sleepy, retiree-filled town to the cosmopolitan, lurid drug empire we know today) are as likely to break your face as look at you. In fact, Freddy Frenger, the recently-paroled sociopath featured in Miami Blues, starts off his trip to Miami by casually breaking a Hare Krishna’s finger (and accidentally killing said Hare Krishna), setting off a sordid chain of events that entangles Hoke whether he’s off-duty or on.
Most notable about Willford’s brand of crime fiction, however, is the mordant humor running throughout. Occasionally raunchy, and more often grisly, it sets Willeford apart from many of the earlier crime ficiton writers, and it is that vein of humor that still runs through the works of Carl Hiaasen today. (Willeford is rightly known as the Father of Miami Crime Fiction, with superstars like Hiaasen and James W Hall coming from his direct lineage.)
Now excuse me, because I have to go purchase his entire œuvre so that I can read and gloat over it. If you hear any odd noises, it’s just me chortling.
Read also: Strip Tease by Carl Hiaasen, Pop. 1280 by Jim Thompson
Cover: Yeah, it’s sunny and sweaty, and could be chronistic. I dig it.
Frederick J. Frenger, Jr., a blithe psychopath from California, asked the flight attendant in first class for another glass of champagne and some writing materials. She brought him a cold half-bottle, uncorked it and left it with him, and returned a few moments later with some Pan Am writing paper and a white ball point pen. For the next hour, as he sipped champagne, Freddy practiced writing the signatures of Claude L. Bytell, Ramon Mendez, and Herman T. Gotlieb.
The signatures on his collection of credit cards, driver’s licenses, and other ID cards were difficult to imitate, but by the end of the hour and the champagne, when it was time for lunch–martini, small steak, baked potato, salad, chocolate cake, and two glasses of red wine–Freddy decided that he was close enough to the originals to get by.
The best way to forge a signature, he knew, was to turn it upside down and draw it instead of trying to imitate the handwriting. That was the foolproof way, if a man had the time and the privacy and was forging a document or a check. But to use stolen credit cards, he knew he had to sign charge slips casually, in front of clerks and store managers who might be alert for irregularities.