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Dentistry in this country is becoming somewhat of a luxury again after years of being free, or cheap, on the NHS. Any person that lives in a populated area may find it almost impossible to get affordable dental care and resort to using the string tied to the door handle technique. In America its even worse were the only healthcare worth having is private so many of the worse off end up walking the streets with fewer teeth than a jack o lantern. You would expect that certain professions would provide their workers with adequate enough healthcare to keep their pearly white more gleamy than a Colgate advert, but this may not be true. If you have a divorced wife and two kids you never see to pay for, you may end up like Sergeant Hoke Moseley, the maverick cop star of A New Hope for the Dead with a set of cheap blue dentures!
As a Sergeant in the Miami Homicide Department Hoke Mosely has to juggle living and working in one of the deadliest cities in America. He has just been put in charge of 50 cold cases and told to solve as many as he can in 3 months. If this was not enough pressure his new partner Ellita Sanchez has just informed him that she is pregnant after a one night stand she had with a man she met in a bar and that her parents have thrown her out. Hoke could probably deal with this, but then his two teenage daughters turn up after 10 years with a note saying that he is now their guardian. Can Mosely juggle all his commitments whilst trying to investigate the apparent OD of a heroin addict?
Charles Willeford has created in Hoke Mosely a cop unlike any other that I have had the pleasure of reading about. He has the gruff exterior of Harry Bosch, but a frankness that makes him unique. Mosley is the reason that I enjoyed this book as he is so dry that he is unintentionally funny, making the book as much a dark comedy as a crime thriller. Mosley will walk into a room and tell the criminal exactly what he thinks of them and its incredibly refreshing, especially having reading a couple of British police novels recently which were frighteningly polite. What makes Mosley even better is that he takes this no nonsense attitude into his personal life too. The scene where he informs his two teenage daughters about the birds and the bees is fantastic in its frankness men only want one thing etc!
To add to Mosleys interesting personality is his look. Early on in the novel we discover that life has been pretty hard for him after his marriage broke down and the divorce lawyer failed him. The majority of his money goes to a rich ex and he is forced to live for free in a scummy motel. Whats better is that he lost all his teeth and has had to have cheap false teeth put in. The slightly off blue colour of his teeth makes his presence that much more intimidating.
With such an unusual central character the entire novel could descend into a farce, but Willeford avoids this by populating the rest of the book with very normal people. Mosleys old partner is just another cop and all his bosses and colleagues are as you would expect in any crime novel. His new partner Sanchez is also very ordinary, but still very interesting. As a second generation Cuban American she makes up some of the ethnic quota that the Miami police require. This means that she not only has to fight about being a woman, but also her race. Sanchez is a very strong character whose traditional beliefs hold her back. With her family disowning her, the journey she takes through the book is just as important as Mosleys.
With such a variety of rich and interesting characters to explore New Hope for the Dead does suffer slightly from a weak plot. Large parts of the novel are about how the characters react to each other and their private lives, meaning that the investigations into the cold cases often take a back seat. Usually I would have found this annoying, but with a character like Mosley you are more interested in them anyway. Perhaps Willeford would have been better advised to spend a little more time fleshing out the central story of the ODed addict as the book kept ignoring it for 50 pages then going back.
There is also another issue with the book and this is down to the time it was written - 1985. New Hope for the Dead is so much a book of its time that you can almost hear Wham! playing as a soundtrack. The fashions and hairstyles as described throughout are extremely dated, but not so much as compared to the attitudes. The book is filled with the easy sexism and racism that made so many 70s and early 80s sitcoms popular. If you are easily offended it may prove too much for you, but in the context of the characters and the time the book was written it actually felt quite fresh to me!
New Hope for the Dead is a novel that caters for lovers of US crime fiction only. It ticks so many of the boxes that make a great American crime book; the maverick detective, the unusual character, all wrapped up in a grim and dangerous world. I loved it! Apart from the slightly weak central case and the dated feel, this book was great. Mosley is a joy to read about and his attitude may be all 80s but it reads wonderfully. If you are a fan of authors such as Robert Crais or Elmore Leonard then add Charles Willeford to your list.
Author: Charles Willeford
Price: amazon uk only available 2nd hand
4 out of 5
Hoke Moseley's boss has dumped fifty 'cold cases', old unsolved homicides, on his desk. His ex-wife has dumped his two teenage daughters on his doorstep. His voluptuous partner, Cuban Ellita Sanchez, has been kicked out of her house for immoral goings-on. Happily, however, the wanton stepmother of the OD'd teenage junkie wants Hoke in her bed. But that could just turn out to be the biggest shocker of all.