Here’s a savory literary cocktail that contains two parts noir atmospherics for the one part that resembles traditional sleuth fiction. It’s the initial installment in a four-book series about Miami Police detective Hoke Moseley, but it’s not really a detective story. Not that genre categories mean much to Willeford, whose aim in this tale is to explore the clash between two men who embody sharply contrasting ways to carve a life out of the muck and madness of South Florida.
The point of view alternates from chapter to chapter between Moseley, a perennially down-on-his-luck cop who is honest but not excessively so, and Freddy Frenger, Jr., a buff, blue-eyed ex-con who just flew into town from California. Frenger makes his own luck, and he doesn’t have an honest bone in his machine-efficient body. Willeford, who calls Frenger “a blithe psychopath” in the novel’s first sentence, plainly revels in observing the trail of larceny and carnage that his amoral creation cuts across Miami. But it’s Moseley, and the homely virtues that he represents—doggedness, middling smarts, a deep (yet rueful) humanity—that win out in the end.
Additional ingredients: outlandish coincidences, cornball excursions into middle-class consumer culture, and sudden turns of crazed violence (as when Frenger beats Moseley senseless at the ramshackle hotel that the latter calls home). Mixed together, they produce a flamboyant Florida Gothic twist on a traditional noir story line. Like that local favorite the Cuban mojito, this concoction goes down smooth and sweet, and then delivers a pleasantly sharp kick.