Thursday, March 14, 2013

Land of bilk and money

Sideswipe, by Charles Willeford, St. Martin's, 1987.
I wanted to try a Charles Willeford novel so I grabbed this one at random. It's part of a series featuring police detective Hoke Moseley, and Miami is his beat. Boy, does Willeford make this locale his own. Willeford's Florida is a sun-drenched paradise with a very shady underbelly. The overlit detritus of modern life is celebrated by an obsessive attention to detail, the author layering his paragraphs with enough brand names and references to the trashy texture of subdivision life in all its glorious mundanity to litter a parallel universe. For long stretches, the story inches forward while tension builds slowly, then explodes with unanticipated violence.

Reading a novel like this is like attending a master class in professional fiction writing. Plot is subservient to delicious character and atmospheric details; the reader is not dependent upon the engine of events to generate pleasure in reading. The dialogue rings of authenticity. The writing seems effortless. Laconically, Willeford beguiles us through his short narrative and dares us not to steam-open his next missive from that peninsular desert of strip malls, motels, and fast food.