REVIEW - High Priest of California by Charles Willeford
This one is tricky.
The main character, Russell Haxby, is just a piece of shit.
He's not really a criminal, but he's definitely a conman of the highest order. And it's not like there's even some greater purpose to his cons, he just does them.
There's no long-term endgame in sight for him. If he can take advantage of someone, Russell Haxby is going to do it. And of course he's a used car salesman.
Without spoiling the story, the target of his main con here is Alyce, a young woman with some baggage that needs to be dealt with before Russell can properly, ahem, date her. And yes, that means exactly what you think it means.
That's it. No big heist. No big rip off. No big cover up. Just a wolf on the prowl with a sheep in his cross hairs.
The writing here is compelling in its simplicity. Willeford drives through the plot here with no sentimentality or fluff. This happens, then this happens, so this happens, so Russell does this, so something else happens. The structure is solid and character driven.
But it's lean. Fans of noir prose that's full of flavor and style may not like Willeford's no-nonsense, full-steam-ahead approach, but it's effective here. Maybe it's too lean at points -- perhaps at the climax -- but it works.
Stories like High Priest of California are quick reminders to readers that just because someone is unlikable that doesn't mean that a story about them isn't unlikable. That make sense?
High Priest of California by Charles Willeford- 4 out 5 Jalopys Marked Up And Then Dumped on Some Sap At A Perceived Discount