That’s not to say that there are not some good police procedurals out there but I find most of them fairly lackluster. I’m bored by the focus on police solving straight out crime, the lack of innovation in the plots, and the political correctness of some many of the protagonists.
One major exception is Charles’ Willeford’s character of Hoke Moseley.
I was reminded how good the Moseley books are when I was travelling recently. I’d finished the book I was reading a lot quicker than I thought I would. I didn’t have my Kindle or any other reading material with me and there was nothing in the house I was staying in.
So I had to go out and find a book. Quickly.
The place I was in was not exactly book lover’s paradise but it did have one or two okay second hand bookshops. In one of those I found a copy of Charles’ Willeford’s The Way We Die Now.
I love Willeford and I’ve read all the Hoke Moseley detective novels. So in that respect, I wasn’t stepping too far out of my comfort zone. But it’s been a long time since I’ve read them and I’d forgotten just how good they are.
Moseley is working cold cases for the Miami police when his commander gives him a special assignment, go to the south of Florida and find out who is murdering migrant Hispanic farm workers.
He’s living with his two daughters from his previous marriage and Ellita, his former Cuban female partner on the police force and her young baby. Moseley’s got to juggle cold case leads, with his special assignment and bringing up his two daughters. To top it off, a man he convicted for murder has got out of jail and moved in across the street from his house.
Willeford handling of all of this is masterful. He moves seamlessly between down and dirty action and Moseley’s ruminations on the changing nature of Miami. His writing has a classic fifties pulp feel fused with an off-beat hard boiled style.
Sure, Moseley is a cop trying to solve crimes, but he’s also a shabby, cheap skate, misanthropic, old school, right wing cop working in the increasingly multi-ethnic city of Miami in the eighties. He’s the perfect anecdote to so many of the politically correct police appearing in crime fiction these days. Indeed, after reading The Way We Die Now, I think the Moseley books should be used in writing courses on the subject of how not to do a boring police procedural.
My debut novel Ghost Money is by no means a procedural but the main character is a cop?If I’m so down on police characters, why did I do this?
Well, he’s an ex-cop to be precise, for reasons I won’t go into in detail here except that it has to do with botched job he was involved in in Bangkok. He’s also a Vietnamese Australian in denial about his character. He specializes in missing persons cases and is on the trail of a lost Australian gem salesman in the political tinderbox that was nineties Cambodia.
I chose Cambodia as the setting for Ghost Money because it was a country I know well, having worked there as a journalist on and off throughout the nineties and again for a year in 2008.
Cambodia fascinated me from the moment I first arrived. The people, the contrast between the anything goes, Wild West atmosphere of Phnom Penh and the hardscrabble but incredibly beautiful countryside.
History oozed from the cracks in the French colonial architecture and protruded from the rich red earth, sometimes quite literally in the case of the mass graves that litter the countryside. Things happened every day – terrible events and acts of heart breaking generosity you couldn’t make up if you tried.
I always thought Cambodia would be a good setting for a crime story. But I also wanted to capture some of the country’s tragic history, the sense of a nation in transition.
Setting the story in Cambodia also gave me a chance to play with some different things in terms of character. Top cite one example, for various reasons, which I explore in Ghost Money, the Vietnamese are intensely disliked by many ordinary Cambodians, something I wanted to use to create an even greater sense of tension.
Ghost Money is a crime story, but it’s also about the broken country that was Cambodia in the nineties, about what happens to people who are trapped in the cracks between two periods of history, the choice they make, what they have to do to survive.
Hopefully, you’ll also think it’s got a very different type of policeman as a main character.
**Andrew Nette is a writer based in Melbourne, Australia. He is one of the editors of the on-line magazine Crime Factory (www.thecrimefactory.com). His short fiction has appeared in a number of print and on-line publications. His debut novel Ghost Money, is published by Snubnose Press. He explores crime film and literature at his site www.pulpcurry.com