Hoke Moseley, the casually noir hero of late Miami writer Charles Willeford's crime novels, might feel out of place at the festivities in his creator's honor at the 11th annual Fort Lauderdale Antiquarian Book Fairthis weekend. After all, the shady cop just wouldn't fit in among the rare-book collectors gathered at the Broward County Main Library, but the connection's not as far-fetched as it might seem. The Bienes Center For the Literary Arts, one of the fair's sponsors, is the repository for the archival material of South Florida authors, and Willeford's widow, Betsy, recently donated his literary papers to the collection.
Willeford, who passed away in March 1998 at age 69 and whose most notable whodunit is Miami Blues, was by no means strictly a hard-boiled crime writer. He also wrote poetry, screenplays, essays, and literary criticism. But it was his Hoke Moseley series that caught the reading public's attention. As fellow mystery writer Lawrence Block once noted: "Willeford wrote quirky books about quirky characters."
Of course the Friday "Willefest" celebration (preceded by discussions and screenings of films based on Willeford's books on Thursday at 3 p.m.) is an added bonus for attendees of the book fair, a two-day event filled with fine, rare, and out-of-print books, maps, and autographs, all on display and for sale by local and national booksellers. Also offered are book-collecting seminars and book-art demonstrations, during which skilled artisans will engage in calligraphy, paper-making, traditional bookbinding, and paper repair.
On Saturday Fort Lauderdale's own bookseller extraordinaire, Robert Hittel, ("I'm just a used-book dealer," he says modestly, "a $5-a-book man") will talk about his quarter-century in the used- and rare-book business. Particularly interesting are Hittel's observations on how the Internet has changed book collecting. "Basically what I've uncovered, thanks to booksellers.com and other inventory operations, is that there are more 'rare' books out there than was thought," he notes. Unique tomes priced at $5000 and up aren't much affected, he says, but $100 to $300 books have tended to decline in value with the realization that more of them exist.
Folks should keep that in mind when Hittel gives free appraisals (two books per person) on Saturday from 10:30 a.m. to noon. "I'm a shoot-from-the-hip type of appraiser," he laughs. "As long as I don't have to write anything down or triple-check it for insurance purposes, I'm happy to look at anything you bring me."
Take him up on it, maybe by bringing in a first-edition Willeford book.