THE WOMAN CHASERÂ by Charles Willeford (1960)
Review by Mike Dennis, 2010
Los Angeles, 1960.Â The pinnacle of the California dream.Â Cars are king, and the king of the used cars is Richard Hudson, recent transplant from San Francisco. Â Thatâ€™s the backdrop for The Woman Chaser, a fine noir novel by Charles Willeford.
Hudson, a Type A personality if ever there was one, regards himself as one of the greatest used car salesmen of all time, and heâ€™s not too far wrong.Â He really knows all sides of the business, as he opens up a Los Angeles lot for Honest Hal Parker, the leading used car dealer in San Francisco.Â No angle escapes Hudson’s sharp eye, no customer gets anything less than his highest-pressure pitch, and no car goes unsold.
He makes plenty of money, lives well, tips generously, and you would think heâ€™s hit his lick.Â But no.Â Thereâ€™s an itch that he canâ€™t quite scratch.Â He longs to be in the movie business. Â The position of writer-producer-director will do just fine, thank you.
His stepfather (who is only seven years older) is a blacklisted Hollywood director, and one night Richard approaches him with an idea for a script.Â It canâ€™t miss, Richard says, turning on his salesmanâ€™s charm.Â And before you can say â€œLights, camera, action!â€, the two of them are trying to get his script turned into a movie.
The novel is divided not into chapters, but sections separated by movie script jargon (dissolve, cut to, fadeout, etc), and itâ€™s somewhat unsettling, but thatâ€™s why Willeford is so good.Â He can use a pedestrian story as an overlay, or even as a decoy, while he barely hints at the swampy mess that is the human condition festering underneath.Â You just know that, despite Hudsonâ€™s having made it in the used car business, heâ€™s doomed as a human being.
The title implies that Hudson spends most of his time hitting on women, but nothing could be further from the truth.Â Women pop up here and there in the novel, but in fact, heâ€™s wracked with guilt over his own lack of real masculine desire.Â It bothers him that heâ€™s too preoccupied with business to get bogged down with women.Â And that includes his mother, an oddball ex-ballerina who is a book all by herself.
In reality, Hudson doesnâ€™t need a woman to lead him down the road to perdition. Â Like so many of Willefordâ€™s protagonists, he can get there on his own.