Friday, June 8, 2012
Wild Wives, Charles Willeford's fourth novel, was first published in 1956, and, according to Don Herron's Willeford, was the author's one and only private detective novel. It's only the second Willeford book I've read, the other being his first, High Priest of California (1953).
Why this was titled Wild Wives is a mystery (at least to me). There's only one wild wife in the story. As a marketing ploy the plural might make sense, but in its first lifetime the novel was published only as a back-up to High Priest, and received very little cover space (see below).Wild Wives did not appear as a stand-alone book (right) until 1995, another factoid gleaned from Don Herron's meaty study
In any case, the wild wife of Wild Wives is wild enough for two, so readers get more than their money's worth. She's a bundle of beautiful hell who gets private eye Jake Blake into so much trouble he's forced to take it on the lam. But even more dangerous to Jake is teenage girl eager to become an apprentice detective. This is a guy who just can't win.
While I enjoyed High Priest of California, I liked this one a little better. Maybe it's because Jake is a more likable character than the titular sleazy car salesman of High Priest. And maybe because this one has a real plot, with an actual resolution. High Priest was just about nasty people doing nasty things.
In both books, though, Willeford takes his characters in unusual directions and keeps the reader (meaning me) off-balance. I have a feeling it will take a few more books to get a handle on him.
Wild Wives, along with most of his other early novels, is free in multiple electronic formats from Munseys.com. You'll find it HERE.
And you'll find more Forgotten Books at pattinase.
Friday, October 21, 2011
I had no idea what to expect. But I knew it was set in San Francisco, I knew I’d be meeting Willeford biographer Don Herron while visiting that burg, and knew I’d be spending a fair amount of time resting my feet and legs in the hotel room. And since I’d reread most of Hammett’s SF stuff in the weeks leading up to the trip, High Priest of California seemed the natural choice to take along.
Natural is a good word for it. The book is narrated in breezy, unaffected fashion by a sleazy car salesman named Russell Haxby. The title comes from a line of dialogue delivered by a supporting character.
“I know all about guys like you, Russell. You’re the High-Priest of California. That isn’t original with me. It was a caption in Life about the used car salesmen of California. Did you see it?”
I shook my head. “I’m afraid not, but it makes a good caption.”
“And it fits.”
Russell’s one and only goal is a bed a reasonably good-looking babe who’s playing hard to get. The reason for the act, we soon discover, is that she’s hiding a mentally unbalance husband in her apartment. She wants to cheat on him, but struggling with guilt.
At that point, I thought I had the story figured. It was a James M. Cain thing, where the sleazy guy and sleazy gal conspire to murder the hubby and end up getting their just deserts. But nope, that wasn’t it at all.
I’m not going to tell you what happens, but I will say that Willeford fooled me. As a story, the novel wasn’t particularly satisfying, but I think was the point. It wasn’t meant to be satisfying, it was meant as a slice of sleazy life in California, circa 1953.
If that’s what Mr. W was really aiming for, he hit the bullseye.
If you’d like to see for yourself, the novel is available for free download, in a variety of electronic formats, at the Munsey’s site, munseys.com. Check it out. You’ll also find six other early Willeford works (Cockfighter, Honey Gal, Wild Wives, The Woman-Chaser, Pick-Up and Whip Hand) and a lot of other cool stuff. I am indebted to Ye Olde Cap’n Bob Napier for the tip.
More Forgotten Books, as usual, at pattinase.
Saturday, November 13, 2010
Portland crime writer Doug Levin has a fine new article on crime writer Charles Willeford on the Mulholland Books site. To check out "Charles Willeford's Portrait of the Artist as a Used Car Salesman," click HERE.
But before you go, take a gander at some of Willeford's many books: