Created by Charles Willeford (1919-88)
JACOB C. "JAKE" BLAKE is your typical fifties-era down-on-his-luck private eye, complete with a "ratty little office" in a San Francisco hotel and more than willing to cut a few corners, in Charles Willeford's lean, mean pulpy potboiler Wild Wives (1956).
It's a ripsnorter alright, even if the title is misleading -- there's really only one wild wife in it. It is a twisty surreal hard-boiled trip, though, boasting a an underaged hottie with a "squirt gun" (and she's not afraid to use it) who wants to be a detective, a gay guy anxious to dump his lover and Florence Weintraub, a beautiful but stone cold crazy young woman looking to escape her overly protective father, a socially prominent architect. It turns out dear old dad is not quite what he seems.
Then again, neither does Florence.
But as loopy as the story getsThe story's chockful of all the good ol' private eye stuff you've come to expect from that era: thuggish bodyguards, jealous husbands, some nasty violence, some nastier sex and a lot of getting whacked on the back of the head, all as hard-boiled as hell, but by the end the author has managed to kick most of the genre's tropes in the head, and had a little fun with them as well. At one point Blake brutally beats a man to a bloody pulp, then complains, "My blue gabardine was ruined. I felt more than a little unhappy about it."
Gee. You think?
One of the more distinctive voices in hard-boiled fiction, Charles Willeford also wrote poetry, autobiography, and literary criticism. But mostly he's known for his crime fiction, notably the Hoke Moseley series about a Miami police detective. Wild Wives was Willeford's only third book, and it's not much more than a novella, really, barely making it to 100 pages. It was published in a 1956 Beacon edition, coupled with a reprint of The High Priest of California, his previous book.
-- tagline to a 1956 Canadian edition of Wild Wives; the author's name is also misspelled
-- Vince Emery, The 14 Best Private Eye Novels of All Time (2012)
-- James Crumley
-- The New Yorker
-- Tony Hillerman
Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.
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