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

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.



Justin Howe

A grim portrait of the single male, with all the absurdity on display. It's hard not to like this novel, while at the same time being shocked at how easily these so-called normal men turn to violence and crime. It might be easy to dismiss this as simply a portrait of place and time (Miami, the 70s/early 80s), but I really doubt the nature of the beast has changed that much since then. A bit rough around the edges, not only in subject matter but style, I suspect this possibly started as a series of short stories or attempts at other novels. That said, Willeford is a master storyteller and observer and both traits are on display here.


Okay, so I loved this, but I can't decide whether to give it three or four stars. It lost some steam towards the end, and also I felt like a book that's told from the perspective of four different people needs to make a stronger and more successful effort to differentiate their voices.... BUT, this ruled and I really did enjoy reading it. For some reason it reminded me of Jacqueline Susann, but for/about men instead of women, and set in the seventies.I recently got into a really embarrassing fight with a stranger on facebook when I overreacted to moralizing about my refined sugar consumption and other vices; I count books like this among the things I love that are shameful and likely giving me cancer. Recently I've stalled out on books with any nutritional value or moral virtue, and The Shark Infested Custard was the perfect antidote to that, basically a KFC Double Down topped with whipped cream and washed down with scotch. If you've recently quit smoking, drinking, sex, pills, or pretty much anything else fun, this might be a good read because a) it feels deliciously bad for you and b) it makes all those things I just listed seem totally gross.In case you did not, as I didn't, "get" the title, The Shark Infested Custard takes its title from what Willeford calls an "old Miami riddle": "What is sweet, bright yellow, and extremely dangerous?" Apparently there is also a British kiddie TV show called this, after the same joke, which seems odd considering how well the title worked to convey the lethal sleaze of 1970s Miami.Aw, hell, I'm giving this thing another star because I really did enjoy it. The best thing about the book is that it's from the point of view of these completely screwed up, horrible, unsympathetic guys, but it never breaks character or winks or gets meta for even a moment, and so you really do see things from their perspective. I would guess that most of the people whom I like and respect would really hate this book and, by extension, would hate me for liking it, so I don't recommend it unless you're a bad person or have at least got a wide unsavory streak.-----------------------------------I'm only on page thirty, but this is one of the most fucked-up books I've started in kind of a long time.In other words, so far it's pretty awesome. I've already learned a new (to me) term, "strange," my new favorite-ever slang for pussy, and one of the main characters' outfits was described like this:Hank came into the living room, looking and smelling like a jai-alai player on his night off. He wore white shoes with leather tassels, and a magenta slack suit with a silk blue-and-red paisley scarf tucked in around the collar. Hank had three other tailored suits like the magenta -- wheat, blue, and chocolate -- but I hadn't seen the magenta before. The high-waisted pants, with an uncuffed flare, were double-knits, and so tight in front his equipment looked like a money bag. The short-sleeved jacket was a beltless, modified version of a bush jacket, with huge bellows side pockets.Don was the only one of us with long hair, that is, long enough, the way we all wanted to wear it. Because of our jobs, we couldn't get away with hair as long as Don's. Hank had fluffed his hair with an air-comb, and it looked much fuller than it did when he slicked it down with spray to call on doctors."Isn't that a new outfit?" Eddie said."I've had it awhile," Hank said, going to the table to build a drink. "It's the first time I've worn it, is all. I ordered the suit from a small swatch of material. Then when it was made into a suit, I saw that it was a little too much." He shrugged. "But it'll do for a drive-in, I think.""There's nothing wrong with that color, Hank," Don said. "I like it."Hank added two more ice cubes to his Scotch and soda. "It makes my face look red, is all.""Your face is red," I said."But not as red as this magenta makes it look.""When you pay us off tonight," Eddie said, "it'll match perfectly."Unfortunately, I can't tell you the really fucked-up stuff, because that would be spoiling. But hopefully you've gotten a taste of its obvious awesome.


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.


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.

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.


Completely chilling, more in the contrast between its banality and the casual violence, though the violence is real enough in this humid Miami of the lower white-collar worker with aspirations and rampant masculinity. Interchangeable stewardesses abound, nubile sex-starved Cubans too, the man certainly has one use for women. But it's a hard book to put down; the characters may be unlikeable but they are certainly unforgettable. And the neighborhood grocery store owner with 27 hits under his belt? Pure genius.


Some quite marvelous filth in here.


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.


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.

Jim Jawitz

Examination/indictment of nihilism and narcissism in swinging-seventies Miami. Crisp, Hemingway-esque declarative writing. As a Miamian of a certain age, I found it fascinating to be transported to this time period. Written in the mid 1970s but not published until 1990s.


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.


A little episodic, but good Willeford is good Willeford. I wouldn't call it his masterpiece, which I reserve for Cockfighter, but it's a great book.


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!)

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