Miami Blues is a beautiful depiction of the sketchy South Florida milieu of my youth. While the film based on the novel was somewhat disappointing, the novel was (and remains) important in several ways.
Miami Blues made Charles Willeford a household name. Willeford had been writing for decades prior to Miami Blues and subsequent Hoke Moseley novels. He was an old pulp scribe, but none of his previous novels had attracted as much attention as Miami Blues. Willeford, to borrow an old saw, put fun into dysfunctionality. Willeford could be deathly girm, and his characters exhibit a brutality and amorality to rival anything Jim Thompson ever wrote.
But Willeford’s rogues also have a strong sense of irony. Freddie Frenger is a psychopath. To sympathize with a psychopath is nothing new. Charles Willeford had us crack a smile at a psychopath. We couldn’t help it. Sure, poetic justice arrived. It was swift, it was sure, it was irreparable. But it was also just odd. And no place was better suited to the destruction of self-indulgent oddballs than Miami in the 1980s. Despite its subtitle, it would be demeaning to regard Miami Blues as simply “a thriller.” It is a powerful depiction of fatalism and futility.