Wild Wives

ISBN: 1400032474
ISBN 13: 9781400032471
By: Charles Willeford

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Crime Crime Fiction Fiction Hard Boiled Noir Pulp Mystery Noir Novellas Pulp To Read Willeford

About this book

Jake Blake is a private detective short on cash when he meets a rich and beautiful young woman looking to escape her father’s smothering influence. Unfortunately for Jake, the smothering influence includes two thugs hired to protect her—and the woman is in fact not the daughter of the man she wants to escape, but his wife. Now Jake has two angry thugs and one jealous husband on his case. As Jake becomes more deeply involved with this glamorous and possibly crazy woman, he becomes entangled in a web of deceit, intrigue—and multiple murders. Brilliant, sardonic, and full of surprises, Wild Wives is one wild ride.

Reader's Thoughts


At 93 pages, this book is more like a novella than a novel, which makes sense, as it was originally issued in 1956 as the second half of a double novel, with Willeford's "High Priest Of California" in front of it. Like a B-movie at a double feature, the second half of a double novel doesn't really have to be that long. Willeford's "Wild Wives" is also similar to a B-movie in that it has an action-packed plot, with lots of lurid sex and violence. Finally, like a B-movie, it spends a great deal of its rather short length making little coherent sense. Instead, we follow narrator Jake Blake, a small-time private eye who's always behind on his bills, through a few days of adventures that don't seem to have much connection to each other. Blake is the sort of amoral sociopath that occupies the main role in many of Willeford's early novels, and he rises to the occasion by lying to, beating up, or sleeping with pretty much everyone he runs into for the first half of the novel. Somehow, though, he retains our sympathy, or at least some of it, and when it seems like it all might come back around to bite him in the ass towards the end of the novel, other readers may find themselves, as I did, rooting for him to somehow get away with it all. It'd be wrong for me to comment too much on the climax of the novel, but I will say that it leaves you conflicted as a reader, and highlights Willeford's working-class existentialism. For a quickly-paced noir novel with plenty of subtext about the pointlessness of modern American society, you can't go wrong here. The only disappointing thing about "Wild Wives" is that it's a $12.95 trade paperback with, as I said, only 93 pages of text. You'd do better to hunt down the Re/Search reissue that pairs it with "High Priest Of California," but then again, it's out of print, and for all I know it commands collector's prices on the secondary market. You can't win.


It was a very quick read, and it was a fun story. It had a twist ending that I didn't see coming. I like how Willeford always seems to introduce characters, have them disappear, and then bring them back right when you'd least expect it. They're interesting characters, too, doing things you'd didn't expect.

Blake Wu

It's a fast read, with a quirky cast of characters set in San Francisco. However, there are some odd similarities to a 1950 film noir starring Robert Mitchum, Claude Rains, and Faith Domergue. Both the movie and Willeford's novella dealt with a (comparatively) young man who fell for a beautiful "wild" (mentally imbalanced) woman who lied about being controlled by her "father" (he turned out to be her rich and much older husband). In the resulting confrontation, the femme fatale smothered the husband without letting the protagonist know, and they tried to flee to Mexico where supposedly the woman had stashed away cash she had been secretly skimming from her old man. I have always wondered whether Willeford had worked uncredited on the film, which predated his novella by some 6-7 years, or whether this was a case of "inadvertent" plagiarism (or at least "creative borrowing"). There are of course sufficient differences between the film and the book to distinguish them as works of art, but the similarities nevertheless are pretty striking.

Patrick James

Certainly not nearly as good a story as Pick-Up. Borrows a few elements from the former to little effect. Much less sympathetic protagonist than Harry from Pick-Up. Madness referred to, shown, but not probed. Coasts along nicely for a while then crashes. But a nice quick read.

Cathy DuPont

Willeford's description of characters is unique and all his own which is just one reason I like to take a break with his books.This one is shorter than most books and I can't point to one person as the real 'bad guy' since every person has his (or her) flaws, deep flaws. One reviewer said 'deadpan' humor, and another said 'wry off-beat humor.' I agree with both. Charles Willeford gave writers who read him and who came after him, something use in their writing. I'm sure Willeford would have been flattered. Maybe.


Well, so far I've read 2 of Willeford's early works, (50's) and several of the later ones (80's). Like them all, but the angry, sardonic, stylized tone of the earlier ones reek with ambition and desires whilst really shitting on the same. dirty and piercing. Totally captivating reading.


Nutty as fuck sleaze from Charles Willeford, mixing noir with hepcat beatnikisms. The PI is named Jake Blake and he hangs out at the Knockout Club. The book is full of booze, babes and spankings, and reads smoothly like a good shot of straight rye. The "girlfriend who turns out to be a psycho" yarn is a noir shaggy dog story but Willeford does it better than most.

Kathy Davie

A hardboiled PI who's just a bit desperate for cash.My TakeThis was a bit Alfred Hitchcock with a flavor of 39 Steps about it. I kept waiting for one betrayal, but got several others.For a private investigator, Blake seems a bit clueless and pretty lazy. Letting those thugs get the jump on him. He simply takes Florence's story at face value. Jumps to conclusions. Fluffs off Bobby.It seems too that a guy like him would have reacted quite differently to Davis's come-on. That was just not believable. And what was with his bundling up his suit like that to get rid of it? It was like he had something to hide. Then there's the motorcycle cop at the end. If Blake was accused of this particular murder, why would the cop give him his gun??Willeford did capture the flavor of the times though, and his characterizations were otherwise right on the money if somewhat exaggerated. Something of a necessity in a story as short as this---102 pages.The StoryWork is slow and Jake Blake jumps at the chance for some easy money helping out a beautiful dame with cash to burn. Too bad he didn't question the circumstances.Then karma rolls back to bite for his treatment of Bobby.The CharactersJake Blake is a hardboiled, cocky private investigator whose business isn't doing well.Florence Weintraub is a much put-upon twenty-six-year-old whose daddy has surrounded her with bodyguards. Milton Weintraub is an architect involved in a number of city projects and they seem to have some sort of sick relationship. Ferguson and Melvin are the bodyguards.Detective Sergeant Ernest Tone is a friend. Lieutenant Stanley Pulaski is not.Freddy Allen is a gay man supported by a wealthy art dealer, Jefferson Davis. His sister Barbara Ann is a pushy troublemaker who really doesn't deserve what Blake sets her up for. But then, neither does he.Jefferson Davis is a fellow resident of the hotel and he isn't sure if he has a problem or not.The CoverThe cover is very 1940ish, 50ish with its fluorescent pink appearing in the background wallpaper, the title, and a curved border at the bottom. The wallpaper itself is a white bamboo print against a radial gradation of pink scattering to gold. Then there's the black-and-white of Florence Weintraub in her diamonds and marabou-trimmed dress.The title is a misnomer as it's only one wild wife.


I love fiction that's based in San Francisco. Dashiell Hammett, Jack Kerouac, I love it all!!!

Warren Stalley

For me this writer is just as good as Hammett or Chandler. This pulp noir story follows a small time private detective through a hellish journey when he is hired by a mysterious woman. I was gripped from the first page to the last and urge any curious reader to give this short novel a chance.


Charles Willeford originally published this under the title Until I am Dead and is often paired with High Priest of California. They bear similarities. In both cases does a man fall under the spell of a demented or wicked woman. Jacob Blake is completely taking in by the “dame” who shows up in his office requesting that he protect her from her bodyguards. Things go from bad to worse as Blake discovers he has been a complete fool. It’s classic noir with the down-trodden P.I. who drinks too much and seems never to get an even break. Very short, quick, read. If you like noir, this is a good example of early Willeford before he started writing the Hoke Mosley series (which is better.)P.S. You can get these really cheap now for your Kindle. I must admit to liking the more salacious original cover, although I would have covered it with brown paper. Note that the title has absolutely little to do with the story.

Douglas Castagna

Reminiscent of James Cain, this one is a wild ride, with a wild woman and a man who is in lust with her. PI Jake Blake becomes involved with the wife of a rich man and finds out a bit too late she isnt what she seems to be. Action and fun to read, another early hit for WIlleford.


This fast-paced novella is an unconventional private eye tale populated with seedy, greedy characters. Willeford, having written it under a pseudonym in 1956, rehashes the usual private-eye-falls-for-a-femme-fatale formula. But he throws in enough curveballs to keep the reader off-balance, starting with the first scene where a beautiful young lady struts into the private eye's office. Our lovers eventually make their way to no-holds-bar Las Vegas where the action grows even weirder. I'd say WILD WIVES is great fun to read on a rainy or snowy day.

Eric Juneau

Damn, this thing is short. It's one of those pulp novels that were all the rage during the depression - hastily written, cheaply produced. I'm glad I got the opportunity to read one, but I'm really surprised how short it is, not more than 50,000 words. This one's about a private detective who gets involved with a woman trying to elude the bodyguards her husband's set on her. Meanwhile, there's a subplot about some beatnik chick trying to become his apprentice, and he blows her off sending her on some wild goose chase. Then there's some murder, and some escaping, while he realizes the hot piece of ass he's been hitting is really psycho and unreliable, saying what she wants to get what she wants. She's set him up to think he murdered her husband, when she's really the one who did it. Reminds me a little bit of "McTeague" by Frank Norris. It's a short read and a bit of history. It's not boring, and it's not spectacular. It's pulp. I recommend it.


Woo Woo, What fun. I read this this a long time ago and wasn't impredssed. I needed a quick read for the bus and tried it agian. Love it. A bit short on profund statements on the meaning of life; but maybe not. Love the tryst at the restaurant. Bad Bobby . And Bad Mrs .Weintraub. I know people who talk like Jake Blake. Gotta check out more Willeford.

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