Created by Charles Willeford
“So you’re the private detective, Jake Blake– “
His voice was shaking with an anger that was barely under control.
“Yes, sir,” I said carefully, and I got up from the couch.
“You must be Mr. Weintraub…” I stuck my hand out to shake hands, but he ignored it completely and turned to snarl at Florence.
“Go to your room!” He told her fiercely.
“Fuck yourself,” she remarked quietly and wandered over to the fireplace.
— Jake meets his client’s father
JACOB C. “JAKE” BLAKE is your typical fifties-era down-on-his-luck private eye, complete with a “ratty little office” in a San Francisco hotel and more than willing to cut a few corners, in Charles Willeford’s lean, mean pulpy potboiler Wild Wives (1956).
It’s a ripsnorter alright, even if the title is misleading — there’s really only one wild wife in it. It is a twisty surreal hard-boiled trip, though, boasting a an underaged hottie with a “squirt gun” (and she’s not afraid to use it) who wants to be a detective, a gay guy anxious to dump his lover, and Florence Weintraub, a beautiful but stone cold crazy young woman looking to escape her overly protective father, a socially prominent architect. It turns out dear old dad is not quite what he seems.
Then again, neither is Florence.
But as loopy as the story gets, the story’s chockfull of all the good ol’ private eye stuff you’ve come to expect from the era: thuggish bodyguards, jealous husbands, some nasty violence, some nastier sex, and a lot of getting whacked on the back of the head. It’s all as hard-boiled as hell, but by the brutal, bleak conclusion (so bleak, in fact, that it gives Jim Thompson a run for the money), the author has managed to kick most of the genre’s tropes in the balls, and seemingly enjoying it. At one point, for example, Blake brutally beats a man to a bloody pulp, then complains, “My blue gabardine was ruined. I felt more than a little unhappy about it.”
Gee. You think?
One of the more distinctive voices in hard-boiled fiction, Charles Willeford also wrote poetry, autobiography, and literary criticism. But mostly he’s known for his crime fiction, notably the Hoke Moseley series about a Miami police detective. Wild Wives was Willeford’s only third book, and it’s a stretch to call it a novel, really, barely making it to 100 pages. It was published in a 1956 Beacon edition, coupled with a reprint of The High Priest of California, his previous book.
- “She wasn’t wearing much beneath the skirt. In an instant it was all over. Fiercely and abruptly.”
- “Story of a hard guy suckered by a cute little Juvenile Delinquent – and by one not so Juvenile!”
— tagline to a 1956 Canadian edition of Wild Wives. As an added bonus, the author’s name was also misspelled
- “If any mid-century crime writer could match Jim Thompson when it came to cruel irony, it was Charles Willeford. Willeford takes the piss out of the classic private eye story in his slim novella Wild Wives…”
–Zach Vasquez in The 12 Darkest Endings In The History Of Noir Fiction (April 2020, Crime Reads)
- “You either love Willeford’s craziness or you hate it. I love his writing. Is his only novel with a P.I.?”
— Vince Emery in The 14 Best Private Eye Novels of All Time (2012)
- “Nobody writes like Charles Willeford. . . . He is an original—funny, weird and wonderful.”
— James Crumley
- “Mr Willeford never puts a foot wrong, and this is truly an entertainment to relish'”
— The New Yorker
- “Wow! He gives you the viewpoint of the most fascinating asocial trash”
— Tony Hillerman
- So Long, It’s Been Good To Know Ya!
Great (or at least memorable) Conclusions