ISBN: 1596542225
ISBN 13: 9781596542228
By: Charles Willeford

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Reader's Thoughts


Saw this on the "Approval Matrix" on the back page of the May 30th New York magazine that some left at a party at my house. It seems to promise a Nathanial West like ride and I am looking forward to it.****Well it wasn't Nathanial West and not quite Jim Thompson. Willeford does a great job at exposing the intricacies of raising and fighting gamecocks. The protagonist, Frank Mansfield, is the sort of male lead that we can expect from this sort of book. He is self made, self confident, without much compassion and totally clueless about women. Mansfield is good at fighting chickens, playing music and not much else. The plot of the book is small and there are few twists or turns to the narrative. I kept hoping that there would be some sort of caper but it never developed.If you like Thompson-esque reads this would work for you but don't count on it going much beyond the sport of cockfighting.

Ben Brackett

Excellent slice of Americana. I was irritated with the narrators pride at first, but got over it in seeing it as in real life whenever someone tells a story of course they are always the hero. By the end I was so caught up in his quest to win that I couldn't put the book down.


Redneck-noir about a mute fellow who raises and fights cocks/roosters. The story isn't bad but there's so much shop talk about the cock fighting game that your attention wanders after awhile. And the trick ending is annoying, like Willeford had to top his trick ending to "Pick Up", a better novel by far.

J.T. Dockery

Like the Hustler by Walter Tevis is about the details of the world of pool sharks, Willeford gives us an insider's glimpse into the world of a cockfighter. As much a true novel of the south as anything this old boy's ever read.

Dave Naz

One of my all time favorites. This book is about life. Perfectly written by Wiffeford, one of the great writers of our time.


If I hadn't gleefully abandoned all scholarly pursuits some years ago, I'd be pretty tempted to become the preeminent Willeford scholar. My all time favorite literary pattern is the hero's journey (up top, Joseph C) and Cockfighter is more-or-less Willeford's spin on The Odyssey. And I don't think he was necessarily being shy about it. I mean, come on, there's a chicken named Icarus. (Also, there's a chicken called Little David that I'm preeeeeeeeetty sure was the inspiration for Little Jerry.) (Edited to add: Yes, Chris, I know Icarus is not in the Odyssey but, you know, mythology and stuff.)The plot structure to this book is more traditional than those in his other books that I've read so far. There's a man with a goal who sets out on a quest, and unlike Hoke--who gets sidetracked often--Frank Mansfield sticks with his boon of becoming Cockfighter of the Year. This is what drives him, and he doesn't get distracted; every move he makes is done with the goal of winning that title. Like in every good hero's journey there is plenty along the way meant to mislead and tempt him away from his mission, but he isn't swayed for long. Maybe because I've read some of Willeford's other books where characters are more reactionary and the plot jumps according to their whims, but the ending of this almost caught me off guard because it's sort of exactly what you see coming. But it's still pretty awesome.It took me a little longer to get into this book--I think mostly I had to warm up to Frank (hard to replace Hoke in my heart)--but once I got about 100 pages in, I couldn't put it down.


Very well written. You don't need to like or know anything about cockfighting to appreciate this novel. The protagonist is, like a true artist, immersed in his medium and will suffer to produce the work of his ambitions. The prose is terse, and the characters are vivid.

Patrick McCoy

The Cockfighter, obviously, is about a man who trains chickens for fights that often end in death of one or both animals, thus, it is not for everyone. It is a subculture I knew very little about, but thanks to this novel, I now know a lot about after following the exploits of the protagonist Frank Mansfield. In fact, it could be said to be the "Moby Dick" of cockfighting novels in that there are several sections that discuss the intricacies of the cockfighting trade as well as the conditioning of the birds. It was one of the elements that I found engaging in Miami Blues as well-I was able to immerse myself in the southern culture of Miami and Miami Beach-places that I had never set foot in myself. The same can be said of this novel. I was able to inhabit the southern cockfighting tour and share the triumphs and setbacks of the eccentric protagonist Frank Mansfield whose one and only goal in life is to be the cockfighter of the year. This is a similarity between Hoke Mosely (from Miami Blues) and Frank Mansfield they are driven to succeed and be the best they can in their respective professions almost to the exclusion of other aspects of their lives. Willeford is a master of creating believable and unusual characters in his novels and I look forward to inhabiting his world of fiction in future novels as well.

Paul Greenberg

This book really is about cockfighting. Not my favorite Willeford.


On pure technique, writing style and ability to portray a culture, this book should get five stars. But while the shop talk about cockfighting is amazingly detailed and impressive, I could give a rat's ass about cockfighting. I never would have read a book with that much shop talk about anything, though admittedly I loved Gun Work by David J. Schow, so I guess I'm a hypocrite. I also find it kind of hard to take the violence involving animals. Last but far from least, this is not a noir or a crime novel; it's a down-and-outer type novel, and a great portrait of a certain culture in the South. But I was kinda looking for a crime novel, and when I got to the end and nobody'd gotten their head blown off, I was a bit disappointed.To be fair, I love Willeford's The Burnt Orange Heresy and that has a murder that seems to be there for no reason other than to make it a crime novel (presumably so he could sell it) and it feels fairly random, with a disappointing ending. So I'm glad he didn't do that here. On its own terms, Cockfighter is a stronger novel than Heresy. There's just kind of a lot of cockfighting in it.


Fast, sure, with Ocala dirt under its cracked, yellowed fingernails ... whatever you think of the milieu, it feels "lived-in," with vivid, genuine, expertly drawn characters.


Frank Mansfield is perhaps my favorite fictional character of all time. A one-of-a-kind portrait of a backwoods obsession.


There was a rooster chained to my ex-neighbors back porch. Now that I read this I wish I invited him over. Do champion cockfighters roosters get rewarded by being let loose in a hen house? Look for the answer to that and many other question in my upcoming novel that tells this same story from the rooster's POV: Cockle-Doodle Frankie!


My familiarity with Charles Willeford was limited to his most famous book, Miami Blues, and two of its sequels (still haven’t read the third), which follow the down and out detective, Hoke Mosely. Mosely is a flawed, at times ethically dubious character, but he makes his living upholding law and order, catching the bad guys. The titular cockfighter of this book, Frank Mansfield, is much closer to the criminal sociopaths that Hoke Mosley encounters, Junior from Miami Blues and Troy from Sideswipe, but that doesn’t keep you from rooting for Frank as he sets out on his compelling quest (the plot structure based loosely on The Odyssey) to become Cockfighter of the Year. Willeford is known as a master of the crime genre, but this feels more like a meticulous piece of sports journalism than a noir caper or confessional. Cockfighting was, and still is, illegal, an industry of the underworld that was tolerated in the South, even aided and abetted by both elected officials and law enforcement. There’s a lot to learn about the sport and culture of cockfighting from this book, but it’s also a very detailed cross-section of the contradictions of Southern culture. Cockfighting is cruel and brutal, and Willeford’s depictions of the matches, or “hacks”, are vivid and gory. But Willeford, a former horse trainer, shows the other side of cockfighting, the discipline and science behind training and raising a champion. While Frank appears to have very little love or compassion for his birds, he does respect and at times almost admires them, believing that cockfighting is “the only sport that can’t be fixed”, and "it's a crime not to arm a cock with spurs that will allow him to fight his best."Sworn to a self-imposed vow of silence until he achieves his goal, Frank sees himself as a man of character and honor, but he’s not without his shortcomings, most evident in his personal relationships. To Frank, and probably the author, women are primarily an impediment or distraction. Frank’s mentor, Ed Middleton, was forced to retire from cockfighting by his wife, who eventually dies, freeing Ed to return to refereeing the sport he loves. Early in the book, Frank attempts a brief career as a musician while trying to scrape together enough money to buy Ed’s ace cock, which he’s reluctantly agreed to sell. This leads to Frank’s tryst with a wealthy widow, Bernice, whom he eventually spurns like Odysseus averting the Sirens. When Frank returns home to evict his brother and sell his family farm, his fiance pleads with him to give up cockfighting and marry her. Frank walks out on her, but later, through correspondence, issues her an ultimatum. He invites her to the big tournament to watch him compete, convinced she’ll realize the beauty and honor of the sport she deems barbaric. Only then will he marry her. If he looses, he’ll give up cockfighting and settle down. If he wins, she has to accept his chosen career. Otherwise, he’ll never speak to her again. Frank also invites Bernice to the tournament, as if he’s hedging his bets with women the same way he keeps a steady rotation of fowl, leaving the reader to wonder if he has any more respect or empathy for his lovers than he does for his birds. Maybe less.This isn’t a muck-racking expose on animal cruelty—Willeford is no Upton Sinclair—but the book is exciting, informative, and at times very funny, although there isn’t much in the way of character development. Even though the point of view is Frank’s, first-person, it’s clear that he’s self-centered and indifferent to the suffering of others. Frank succeeds despite, and maybe even because of his own personal flaws, changing very little over the course of the book, other than maybe learning to be more cautious and wary of the trappings of hubris. His ace cock, after all, is named Icarus.


Couldn't finish it. I thought this book was about a cockfighter. Not a guy playing guitar in a night club for 50 pages.

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