By Sean Tuohy
It takes a tough guy to know how to write a tough guy novel and Charles Willeford was the definition of tough guy.
How tough was good old Charles Willeford? When you Google Image search his name it is impossible to not find a picture of him smoking and looking ultra cool. During his career as a writer Willeford penned a dozen hardboiled noir age novels and the genre-bending Hoke Molsey series. Willeford has been praised by James lee Bruke, Elmore Leonard, and Quentin Tarantino as the best crime writer of all time.
But before he became a tough guy writer, Willeford lived the tough guy life.
Born in 1919, Willeford had a rough start. He lost both parents before he was a teenager and came of age during the Great Depression. At 13 years old, when most of us were getting bitch slapped by puberty, Willeford assumed an identity and jumped on a freight train. He was barely a teenager and he essentially became Jason Bourne.
Willeford lied about his age, joined the Army, and fought in World War II as a tank commander. While still in Europe, Willeford wrote and published his first book that was the toughest, meanest collection of…poetry. Wait a minute. Really? You mean the guy who fought in WWII and also worked as a fireman, cook, and gas truck driver before he was 20 years old, wrote poetry? Then again, who are we to judge? Even tough guys have a soft side.
After 1950 Willeford was all over the place. He joined the Air Force for a while, he was a boxer, actor, radio host, and in between all that went to college and got his M.A. in English. During this time, Willeford published several highly praised, but low grossing novels, High Priest of California and Cockfighter among them.
While working as a professor at Miami Dade College, and nine years after his last published novel, Willeford printed his most successful novel Miami Blues. The cop drama took place in Miami during the wild drug days in the 1980's and features hard-nose, no-nonsense police detective Hoke Molsey.
Miami Blues was later turned in to a film starring Alec Baldwin. Willeford, now in his sixties, was finally making a living as a full-time writer.
He pumped out a total of four Hoke novels before his death in 1987. We assume that when he died Willeford was puffing a smoke and coming up with one final great tough line.