Read as part of CBR14Bingo: font. The book is told from the perspective of a journalist. Several times throughout the novel, the font of the novel will change when an article that the journalist or someone else writes is inserted in the story.
It’s going to be tough to squeeze 250 words out of here but I’ll try. I was planning on dumping this with my end-of-the-month reads but it checked the “font” box off CBR Bingo so…
Charles Willeford loves writing about domesticity. And while he’s good at teasing out some of the larger issues of middle class life in the United States, especially in the 60s-80s, I kinda wish he wasn’t so fascinated with the subject.
What made both Cockfighter and Miami Blues such excellent books is not the domesticity but how Willeford used his gift for creating interesting characters to pit them in compelling situations. Cockfighter was a sparse noir about a zealous cockfighter moving heaven and earth to make it in this rugged southern sport. Miami Blues is about the stupidest game of cops-and-robbers ever played. Both are classics.
But the rest of the Hoke Mosley series focused on Hoke trying to fix people’s lives while solving crimes. And his other books, while interesting, don’t meet any sort of standard of interest for me.
Which leads to Understudy for Death.
The idea for this is a good one: a Mad Men-esque tale of a self-centered journalist reporting on why a devoted wife and mother committed a murder-suicide of her children. In a broader sense, it is a deconstruction of marriage and domesticity in the early-60s and Willeford has a keen eye.
But the execution…blah. Painfully overwritten scenes, expository dialogue that doesn’t quit, obnoxious characters that the author thinks are clever insertions. There’s an idea in here but it’s been done better elsewhere.
Also, while I often talk about how I don’t care whether or not a character is likable, this one really stretched that rule. The MC is just insufferable and I didn’t care about his issues or his views or anything else regarding him. I get that Willeford was likely using him as a tour guide through his hellscape, knowing that we’d hate him. But he’s not interesting enough to hate. He’s annoying and I’m so glad to be out of his head.
I almost never give a book 2-stars because I usually never finish a book if it’s gonna be less than 3. I finished this to satisfy some requirements and there’s just not enough here to get it to rise above 2. I love Willeford but even the greats misfire.