I'd been exposed to Willeford's novels in my early teens through my father. I remember liking the Hoke Moseley novels well enough, but the memories have dimmed.
Cockfighter was a more direct exposure to Willeford's off-kilter mind, maybe because a psychopath breaking a Hare Krishna's finger at the airport (Miami Blues) wasn't as impressive to me at that age as a self-willed mute who trained fighting roosters. I don't know.
But it was The Pick-Up that blew me away. The whiplash that last paragraph gives you—a single sentence that changes everything, with no refunds allowed. It's a cagey but clean surprise. The kind of technique Willeford would resort to again and again in the short stories of the 70's and 80's—and the kind of blind twist you see a lot of today in noir flash.
The Second Half of the Double Feature, a Willeford miscellany put out by Wit's End Publishing, offers enough gold in the pan to make up for what some have complained is filler. Filler is pushing it—if you just like a good story, and certainly if you're a Willeford completist. Because the completists get an excerpt of Willeford's unpublished, unfinished novel The First Five in Line and a few previously unpublished pieces like The Listener, a surreal foray into American television culture. There are at least six or seven original, provocative, dead-on tales in The Second Half of the Double Feature, each pursuing its own treatment of the crooked moment when the world goes wrong.
With a sense of humor. Don't forget that.