Charles Willeford (1919-1988) was a heroic and decorated U.S. Army veteran who served in World War 2, and fought in the Battle of the Bulge. He continued with his military career after the war, and began writing in his free time while still enlisted. “Wild Wives” was released in 1956 and was his third published novel - originally packaged by Beacon Books as a double along with his 1953 debut, “High Priest of California.” Over the past 63 years, “Wild Wives” has been reprinted several times and is available today as a one-dollar eBook.
The short novel is a narrated by a low-rent San Francisco private eye named Jake Blake. His new client is Florence Weintraub, the voluptuous and promiscuous daughter of a prominent local architect. Daddy has hired a couple of goons to tail Florence and ensure she stays out of trouble. She hires Jake to help her shake the surveillance for a couple hours of unsupervised living. The prospect of a $25 daily fee is a payday too tasty for Jake to decline, so he accepts the gig.
While working the assignment, things abruptly shift gears from a remarkably-good private eye novel to a simply-amazing femme fatale noir story. If you read enough of these books, you learn the basic formula, but I never knew where this sexually-graphic story of action and violence was headed. In fact, I’m trying to remember the last crime novel I’ve read that was this awesome.
I recall reading “High Priest of California” years ago, and I’m comfortable saying that “Wild Wives” is a superior novel in every way. Willeford’s writing is excellent and it’s clear he was having a lot of fun with the tropes of the hardboiled detective genre (“She clung to me like jello in a molding tin.”). It’s difficult for me to recommend this short paperback with more enthusiasm than I already have. I wish I had enough dollars to buy the eBook for all Paperback Warrior readers and assign this to you as mandatory reading. For the love of all things holy, drop what you’re doing and read this novel. Highest recommendation.
Buy a copy of this book HERE