RARA-AVIS: Date: Wed, 17 Jan 2001 10:35:54 -0500

From: George Pelecanos ( shoedog1@erols.com)
Date: 17 Jan 2001

Bill's astute comment about the "astounding explosion of violence" in THE WAY WE DIE NOW brings to mind the grocery store robbery in SIDESWIPE. It's a passage I have reread many times to remind me of how violence should be handled to achieve the intended horrific effect with the least amount of exploitation. Here's a sample from pages 238-239 of my Ballantine edition:

    "The checker, except for quivering, hadn't moved from the moment Troy announced the holdup. Her face had a greenish pallor beneath her heavy makeup, and there was a thin ring of white encircling her purple lips. She began to urinate, couldn't stop, and a large puddle formed around her feet. Her lips quivered, but she couldn't make any sound come out of her dry throat as Troy walked toward her with the shotgun extended in his right hand. When he was about two feet away, Troy shot her in the face, and blood and brains erupted from her blonde head. She feel backward and slid to the floor. With his left hand, Troy scooped the bills from her register and jammed them into the pocket of his windbreaker. As he turned back toward the cage, Randy, crouched low, was on his feet again, hobbling as fast as he could toward the dairy section at the back of the store.
    Running lightly in his Nikes, Troy overtook the boy and shot him in the back of the head. The boy's body fell forward and slid across the clean floor into a six-foot pyramid of canned peaches. The stack toppled, and the heavy cans bounced and gurgled on the brown linoleum."

Willeford's style here is nearly reportorial, in keeping with the tone of the rest of the book. Notice that he doesn't break up the action into single-sentence paragraphs meant to simulate suspense. Each paragraph contains a unified thought or act. That's total control of craft. This sequence, which represents just a few pages in a book otherwise devoid of
"action," is one of the most powerful in the harboiled canon.

Finally, has anyone here discussed the similarities between Willeford's Hoke Moseley books and the excellent Mulheisen books by Jon Jackson? Jackson does a letter-perfect Willeford, in terms of prose-style, in his novels. Mulheisen's nickname, "Fang," is the tip-off. Like Moseley, Mulheisen is identified by his unusual dental problems.


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