The Shark-Infested Custard

ISBN: 1400032512
ISBN 13: 9781400032518
By: Charles Willeford

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About this book

From the master of Miami noir comes this tale of four regular guys living in a singles apartment building who experience firsthand that there's more than one type of heat in Miami.Larry Dolman is a rather literal minded ex-cop who now works private security. Eddie Miller is an airline pilot who's studying to get his real estate license. Don Luchessi is a silver salesman who's separated from his wife but too Catholic to get a divorce. Hank Norton is a drug company rep who gets four times as many dames as any of the other guys. They are all regular guys who like to drink, play cards, meet broads, and shoot a little pool. But when a friendly bet goes horribly awry, they find themselves with two dead bodies on their hands and a homicidal husband in the wings—and acting more like hardened criminals than upstanding citizens.

Reader's Thoughts


I liked this book but I didn't love it. A bunch of uber-macho single guys all kick back with BBQ and brewskis at the same swinging singles apartment building in Florida. One's an airline pilot, one sells real estate, another's a surgeon, etc. whatever. We get to experience their trials and tribulations with evil hippie White Trash drug dealers who don't know how to treat a dame the way they only know how, with their polyester jumpsuits, feathered hair, and vinyl cowboy boots. Half the time I wanted to laugh and the other half I just wanted it to be over. A good book shouldn't do that!


Absolutely tremendous. What I think makes Willeford a genuine great American author is his ability to make create a situation that makes me howl with laughter then,seconds later,shudder with despair. His take on bachelor life in 70s Miami is a shag carpeted hellscape,where the sexual liberation of the late 60s has mutated into a machismo drenched game of ones up man-ship where the four bachelors gloat over recent bed room conquests like a fantasy football league. Titillation followed by a moralistic finger wagging is common tactic for crime/mystery writers, Willeford opts to entwine the exhilarating with the horrific.


Quite a shift from his tighter genre-observant Hoke Moseley novels, SHARK reads like some of Willeford's other writing (e.g., BURNT-ORANGE HERESY) that exploreS the lives of outcasts and sociopaths. This novel,a sort of seedy neon Miami extreme of that type, is neither a traditional noir nor a play on the conventions of noir, but it's a compelling read anyway. The novel feels fragmentary--or a bit unfinished--and I have wondered about the circumstances of its publication. I found it a good, if idiosyncratic and nasty, piece of work.

Mark Hepler

Willeford’s books have been analyzed exhaustively by knowledgeable reviewers who have written masses of astute text about Shark Infested Custard—there isn’t much I can add.The story’s narrative, though grounded, exhibits tinges of dark-comedy and theater-of-the-absurd. Its dramatis personae inhabit a milieu fraught with anomie, not unlike citizens in Jim Thompson’s small towns. The bad guys are pretty ordinary until something catalyses their inner killers: then they rationalize and compartmentalize their behaviors with alacrity, and their crooked psyches become their destinies.If you’re a Willeford buff, enjoy—there aren’t many other novels by him to pick from, anyway. You will laugh at the characters’ bizarre outlooks, and dread the havoc that their vexing actions will wreak.If you’re new to the author, don’t start with this volume: it’s a good read, but flawed, and suffers from chronological palsy. You won’t have as much fun with Shark Infested Custard as you would with, say, Miami Blues.


Plain nasty book about cold-hearted, single men in Miami - true and awful and compelling.A rare book without moral compass...dangerously provocative. (Sounds a bit like a back page review that last bit - 'dangerously provocative' - sorry!)


I first read Willeford's Hoke Moseley series, and found them quite comic and quirky. This book about four Miami buddies who casually kill a man and cover it up is heavy on the dialogue. Willeford also uses long passages for tangents on things like male circumcision, and resulting court cases, and of course there's always drinking involved.


Charles Willeford felt that The Shark-Infested Custard was his masterpiece. The novel centers around four men who become friends because they all live in a Miami apartment building that caters to singles. Beyond this, the main things they have in common are a creepy crassness and an interest in the finer points of getting laid. Willeford described The Shark-Infested Custard as "a fairly nasty picture of so-called ordinary young men who are making it down here." Thus, the challenge facing Willeford as a writer was to give his readers sufficient reason to want to spend 263 pages' worth of time with such an unpleasant group of protagonists. For a noirish novel, the obvious strategy would have been to hook readers with a strong narrative drive, but Willeford's episodic storytelling pointedly refuses to do this. (Perhaps it was this vaguely arty storytelling decision, in combination with the vaguely arty decision to use multiple first-person narrators, that deluded Willeford into his high opinion of this book.) Failing this, the author might try to give the book some sort of substance as sociological document, exploring the nature of a society that produces "ordinary young men" like these. But the novel does not seem especially interested in this, either. In the end, the problem with The Shark-Infested Custard is that it does not seem interested in much of anything other than itself.


Written in the 1970s and published posthumously in 1993, this ambitious Florida novel was Mr. Willeford's longest book (per the rear cover's copy). The loose plot follows the fates of four male friends as they cover up a murder, chase skirts, and get each others backs. Cast in a noirish tone, Custard offers a great deal more. It's social gaze at surviving in hot, nasty Florida, entertaining us with the story's wicked, satirical, and humorous turns. I've read a few of Mr. Willeford's books and still like the Hoke Moseley quartet and Burnt Orange Heresy a bit more, but this vintage crime novel ranks as a gem of its own.

Karin Montin

This is the first Willeford I really haven't liked. The Burnt Orange Heresy was a little iffy, but this one--no. It’s about four ordinary guys living in Miami Beach. One day, they find themselves (relatively innocently enough) with a dead fourteen-year-old girl on their hands. Inexplicably, the former cop of the bunch (Larry) decides that rather than report the incident to the police, they should get rid of the body, binding them in this terrible secret.There are four parts to the book, told from four different points of view. They are pretty well self-contained stories. The dead girl is just in the first one. Incredibly, there are more extraordinary killings and other crimes in the lives of these regular working men. Larry is something of a sociopath, no conscience, no empathy, and Hank runs a close second. They are loyal to their pals, that’s all.These guys have a hateful attitude towards women. There is nothing but sex behind any of their relationships, and the search for sex or getting away from entanglements drives every plotline. Of course, this is deliberate on Willeford’s part, but hard to take. The ending is bleak and ironic.

Patrick McCoy

The Shark Infested-Custard (1996) by Charles Willeford is supposedly one of his own personal favorites. I enjoyed it, but I wouldn't rank it among my favorites though. There's plenty to like with his divergences into subjects like psychology, singles apartments, luxury flatware, pharmaceuticals among other subjects. it si a set of four interlocking stories involving four men who have become friends living in a singles' apartment complex in Miami in the 70s. Each story is told in a distinctive voice from each character's point of view: Hank, a pharmaceutical salesman, Larry ,a private security operative, Eddie, an airline pilot and Don, the unhappily married middleman for a luxury silverware firm. This isn't a crime story per se, but there are criminal events that take place in the four narratives as Willeford goes on about sumptuous meals and pantsuits all the while these events take place. It ends abruptly with a sudden unforeseen plot twist. This is not his best, but it is entertaining as always.


I warned you I was going to be reading nothing but Willeford for awhile. But for some reason the NYPL only has 1 other of his books in the catalog, so time to start searching the used book bins. (I'm a little peeved that I directed my annual gift to NYPL to go "where it's needed most" rather than specifying they should use it to buy the complete Willeford oeuvre. The way he writes about fucked up things with such nonchalance is just...I don't have words.

Maria Maniaci

He writes really well, and he's seems to have one hell of a grasp of psychology, but the plot was ridiculous. I give him points for his willingness to throw in the crimes without even tossing a passing nod at plausibility or credibility. That takes guts.

Benjamin Montero

I fucking adore Willeford (avatar = hint) it's his encyclopedic knowledge of the minutiae of life in the US (under capitalism?) coupled with such a keen eye for human detail and always this otherness, an openness in his books that makes all his characters no matter how unbelievable and unpredictable their actions appear entirely convincing. He can for example spend three pages discussing how a tax-deductible PR report altered the sales plan of a trans-atlantic silverware company before seamlessly going into how this is now affecting the robbery choices of one of the protagonists...he is fucking great. (um, I liked the book)


The subtitle "A Novel" isn't quite a goddamn lie, but it's close. It's more like a set of four semiconnected short stories / novellas centered on a group of four guys making the most of the singles lifestyle in 1970s Miami. A pharmaceutical salesman, a private security operative, an airline pilot and the henpecked middleman for a luxury silverware firm, they run the gamut from cocksure shitheels to hopelessly deluded fuck-ups. Abandoning wives and lovers, committing grand theft, covering up the overdose death of a teenage girl picked up at a drive-in as the result of a bull-session bet... these smarmy yet oddly sympathetic jackasses keep digging their own holes deeper and deeper as they're drawn into crimes acutely satirizing the freewheeling morals of the swingin' '70s. The casual, nigh-sociopathic misogyny on display is fairly unnerving, until it slowly becomes apparent how their disregard for women is catching up to them, exiling them one by one from their Florida paradise to a purgatorial existence in a Chicago suburb. The plotting is a little sloppy at times, but Willeford's gleefully subversive take on the crime novel is in fit form. As in his best works, it all unravels like a grotesque shaggy dog story, building up to a typically twisted punchline. Solid stuff, but definitely not for all tastes.


A one-off from the writer of the Hoke Mosely series about a group of losers that inhabit South Miami, told with spare but compelling style that makes him one of the great crime novelists of the 21st century.

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