Fictional heroes typically embody a series of human ideals such as doing the right thing, protecting the innocent, seeing that justice is properly served – all that crap. Fictional anti-heroes are more realistic as they tend to be flawed in very truthful ways. In crime fiction, the majority of the heroes are divorced alcoholics and if they’re not, they’re in a loveless marriage crumbling under their obsessive work habits.
The protagonists during the golden age of hardboiled fiction usually drank their way through cases. In Dashiell Hammett’s final novel The Thin Man, Nick and Nora mix themselves a martini pretty much every other page but a possible liquid dependency is never explored. Although Philip Marlowe liked to drink when he pondered over cases and chess problems, he never checked into AA. It’s not until contemporary times that we see heroes of crime fiction crippled by their vices. Nordic author Jo Nesbo’s Harry Hole character, for example, is a chronic boozehound whose addiction leads him to some severely dark edges of morality.
Stuck in between the classic noir hero and the damaged detectives of modern times resides Hoke Moseley. First introduced by author Charles Willeford in his groundbreaking novel Miami Blues (1984), Hoke is simply one of the most believable creations in crime fiction history. Not just because he drinks and possesses other flaws we can see in our ourselves, but also because he’s just a working stiff going through the same issues as you and me. He’s not a drunk, but he drinks. He’s a good cop, but doesn’t really take his work home with him. Too put it bluntly, he’s utterly relatable.
Last year, the exciting news came down that FX ordered a pilot starring Paul Giamatti as Hoke. This, I truly believe, is perfect. It’s just the hero television needs right now. Since the Sopranos, the trend has been male characters who are damn good at their job (whether these jobs be illegal or otherwise), but seen as failures by their families. There’s Tony Soprano, Walter White, and Don Draper, to name three of the most popular. It’s a character type that’s tough to pull off well, but can be formulaic at times.
Hoke Moseley also fits into this category, but he’s on his own shit and can’t be pigeonholed. For one he doesn’t lead a double life like the trio mentioned above. He carries the same wearied face to work that he has at home, which is the trademark of every working man. The homicides he’s brought in on were secondary to Willeford’s plots. The main focus of the Hoke Moseley series is this exhausted slob with an interesting job trying to keep his shit together during a mid-life crisis. Hoke would be a lousy meth cook is what I’m saying.
Unlike many male “heroes” and “anti-heroes,” Hoke possesses a quiet masculinity that inhabits many of Willeford’s male characters. He doesn’t talk shit or make threats. If he’s going to shoot you, he just does it. It would be easy to throw in some hardboiled wisecrack before Hoke smokes some crook, but instead Willeford has him simply pull the trigger, punch the clock, and go home to sit in front of the television until he falls asleep. Being tough is part of his job – he just doesn’t make a show of it.
And it’s not Hoke’s gun and badge that make him a hero. It’s his role as a single father to his two daughters. They were essentially dumped in his lap after being absent from his life for several years, so assimilating to being a father is a bitch for Hoke. But he begrudgingly does it. Excuse me for getting all sappy, but shit, isn’t that what being a real man is all about? He’s not the best father in the world and he looks forward to the day he can kick their asses out, but for now he’s taking care of business.
Paul Giamatti is perfect casting too. He genuinely resembles Hoke with that paunchy frame and tired eyes. And he’s a damn good actor so it’ll be a treat to watch him every week. If the pilot is picked up, that is. Scott Frank is developing the show. He’s adapted Elmore Leonard for the big screen, so this should give us some hope. Hoke was previously played by the great Fred Ward in 1990′s Miami Blues. It’s a really good, funny movie and you should check it out if you haven’t seen it. Ward’s great, but the film focuses on Alec Baldwin’s petty crook character more than Hoke. I think Giamatti will do even better.
After rooting for bad guys for so many years on television, I think the world needs Hoke Moseley right now. I know I’m ready to cheer on the working stiff.