cover image Understudy for Death

Understudy for Death

Charles Willeford. Hard Case Crime, $9.95 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-1-78565-698-9

First released in 1961 under the title Understudy for Love, this reissue from Willeford (1919–1988) commemorates the 30th anniversary of the quirky author’s death. Like most of his paperback originals during this period, it features a male animal on the prowl: one Richard Hudson, a newspaperman in a small Florida city who finds his routine disrupted when a housewife murders her two children and then commits suicide. Assigned to ferret out reasons for the baffling crime, Hudson tracks down her friends, husband, priest, and creative writing teacher, even as he begins to question his own existence. Given the demands of the sleaze market of the day, Hudson naturally falls into bed with his sexy wife every few chapters and has a torrid affair on the side. Willeford fans will find many traces of his usual themes and humor, but this so-called lost novel oddly lacks the violence and psychotic characters that are the trademarks of his best work, such as Miami Blues and The Burnt Orange Heresy. (July)