Thursday, June 26, 2008

On "The Way We Die Now" by Charles Willeford ****

A couple of years ago, I read Willeford's The Pickup, at least in my mind his most popular work--at least the only one I was familiar with, the only one that I'd seen on bookstore shelves, and the one chosen for Modern Library's edition of classic noir novels from the 1950s. It was a story about a drinker, a painter, a love affair. What it had to do with crime, I wasn't too sure. And I didn't enjoy it (not that I need a crime in a story to enjoy it). I likely wouldn't have picked Willeford up again except that a friend of mine recently moved away and was giving away a stack of books. I took a handful, one of them being Willeford's The Way We Die Now--it was free after all. I'm glad that I took it. This definitely is a crime novel--and such a thing at its best. It's the story of bad cops acting badly and criminals who may not be so bad after all. The lines are blurry, and I'm not sure it really matters--it's just good reading. It reminded me a little of what the movie Copland could have been. In that Sylvester Stallone movie, Stallone plays a cop gone wimpy and, thus, bad. Crooks run the town, and Stallone is too scared to do much about it. Unfortunately, the film, in its last act, turns into typical Stallone Rambo-type fodder. The heroics come at a cost--almost. Willeford's novel is never quite as simplistic as that film, so it couldn't make everything come out all right in the end if it wanted to, and it leaves a whole lot more questions unanswered.

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