Charles Ray Willeford III was born on 2nd January, 1919, in Little Rock, Arkansas. Orphaned at the age of 8, he was taken in by his grandmother and lived in Los Angeles. By 12, Willeford had realized that she couldn't afford to keep both of them, so he took to the road and became a drifter.
At 16, he lied about his age and enlisted in the Army Air Corp, which lead to a posting in the Philippines. This was a random act that shaped the next twenty years of his life. The concept of one small decision or action completely changing a life is a common theme throughout his novels.
Willeford subsequently went on to join the cavalry and became a tank commander. During the war he won a brace of medals - Silver Star, Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Luxembourg Goix de Guerre. He also won a peppering of shrapnel wounds, and a rich trove of human experience that would resurface in his literature.
"A good half of the men you meet in the Army are psychopaths. There's a pretty hefty overlap between the military population and prison population, so I knew plenty of guys like Junior in Miami Blues and Troy in Sideswipe."
His first novel, High Priest of California, was written during a weekend break from Hamilton Air Force Base in 1949. It took four years to find a willing publisher, Beacon, who also published Pick Up in 1956. By this time Willeford was married and had retired from the Army. He went on to gain a Masters in English, and a string of jobs which culminated in teaching English philosophy at Miami Dade Junior College.
During these years he released several new works, but he failed to receive any widespread recognition. This only came in 1984 with the publication of Miami Blues, the first of the Hoke Mosely novels. Three more in the series followed, the last in 1988, the year Willeford died.
Willeford's style is one without judgement or morality. Something happens, and in turn causes something else to happen. His characters are unusual, quirky, and very often psychopaths. He is, as Time Out have described him, the 'Pope of Psycho-Pulp.'