In a letter to a friend sent shortly before his death in 1987 Charles Willeford wrote, “The plot really doesn’t matter that much, as long as you have one; the important thing is the characters.” Likewise, Don Herron’s study Willeford offers a collection of biographical anecdotes culled from Willeford’s published works and personal papers that is fortified with information gathered in interviews and personal correspondence. Though Herron’s book is more a chronology of Willeford’s writings than one of his life, it provides the comprehensive biography of a man who was not only a renowned crime novelist but also a soldier, a Golden Gloves boxer, an actor, a scholar and an avant garde poet. In addition to Willeford’s three autobiographical volumes, his pulpy San Francisco trilogy, existential novels Burnt Orange Heresy and Cockfighter, and Hoke Mosely detective series, include scenes that were often adapted from real life experiences and Herron calls these to the forefront. His extensive bibliography draws attention to the diversity of Willeford’s writing and describes a few titles that Willeford himself was unaware existed. Falling somewhere between an oral history and a critical appreciation, Willeford canonizes a writer who ranks not only with noir stylists Hammett and Chandler but also at times with personal influences Franz Kafka, Henry Miller, and James Joyce.
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