This is the fourth and, sadly, the last entry in Charles Willeford’s series featuring Miami homicide detective Hoke Moseley. Hoke, to put it mildly, does not remotely resemble the homicide detectives that one usually encounters in crime fiction. Certainly, he’s nothing like Sonny Crockett and the other detectives of the television show, Miami Vice, which was so wildly popular at the same time this series was written.
Hoke is middle-aged and overweight; he dresses in leisure suits that be buys on the cheap. He has no teeth and is plagued by an ill-fitting set of dentures that constantly cause him problems. He lives in a small home that he shares with his two teenage daughters, the woman who was once his partner, and the ex-partner’s infant son. Hoke and his ex-partner are not romantically involved; they are both challenged financially and are sharing the house as a way of saving money. It’s a difficult arrangement which severely limits Hoke’s sex life, assuming that he had one. Obviously, it’s nothing like living alone on a great bachelor-pad houseboat with an alligator named Elvis.
Hoke is now working cold cases and is pursuing the case of a doctor who was murdered several years ago. He’s enjoying the challenge and is reasonably content until a man named Donald Hutton leases the house directly across the street. Years earlier, Hoke had arrested Hutton for first-degree murder. On the basis of the Hoke’s testimony, Hutton was sentenced to life in prison and publicly swore revenge against Hoke. But then ten years down the road, the conviction was overturned on a technicality; Hutton was freed and the D.A. decided not to retry the case. So now Hutton is living across the street from Hoke, sitting out in the yard all day, watching the comings and goings of Hoke’s daughters and his ex-partner, Ellita.
Hoke is obviously concerned about Hutton’s intentions, but there isn’t much he can do about the situation. Then, in the middle of all this, his boss assigns him to a very dangerous, one-man undercover operation in a neighboring county. Haitian immigrants are disappearing and the local sheriff fears that a particularly nasty farmer is employing the Haitians as migrant labor and then killing them rather than paying them off at the end of the season. As a favor to the sheriff, Hoke’s boss agrees to loan Hoke out to investigate.
All of these diverse strands come together to create another very entertaining story. Willeford invented some truly unique characters; the story is well-plotted, and there’s a fair amount of humor. The question that hangs over it all is whether Hoke will weather all the threats he suddenly faces to produce a solution to any of the crimes on his plate.
Charles Willeford toiled in the crime fiction genre for a number of years without getting the attention and respect that he genuinely deserved. That changed, finally, when he began the Hoke Moseley series. The books were critically acclaimed and sold much better than his earlier efforts. Sadly, though, Willeford died in 1988, the same year that this book appeared and didn’t get the chance to enjoy this success for very long. His passing was a loss for fans of crime fiction as well; it would have been great fun to follow Hoke Moseley through at least a few more books. But we are fortunate to have these four, and readers who haven’t yet discovered Willeford and Hoke Moseley might want to look for Miami Blues, the book that introduced this great character.