‘Citizen’s Arrest’ by Charles Willeford

My oversized opinion of Willeford is that he’s one of the most important American writers of the second half of the twentieth century. Because he was a genre writer who wrote dark, critical, comedies about the male psyche, and because his male protagonists were almost always misogynistic, arrogant, assholes, Willeford was never going to attract the popular readership. But Willeford had the vibe of where America was at the end of WWII and where it was heading in the twenty-first century. For such a long-time reader of Willeford I’ll never forgive myself for not seeing where the US was headed five years ago – being run by a shady Willeford type, a kind of used car salesman in a bad suit and terrible hair.
 
‘Citizen’s Arrest’ is a perfect example of what Willeford excels at. A guy sees a thief steal a lighter at a department store and tries, and fails, to do have the thief arrested. There’s a great description of the lighter. A conversation with the thief who explains his routine. And a perfect last line of the story as the blame is turned on the narrator when a police officer asks, “Now, sir, what is your name?” 
 
What Willeford excels at is that he has never cheated the last line of any of his books or stories. His last lines are a masterclass in endings. They may not leave you feeling good about the situation you just read but their truth never makes you feel ripped off. They are both a summation, a revelation, and an often bitter truth that the reader wasn’t expecting.

First published in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, 1966. Reprinted in The Second Half of the Double Feature, Wit’s End Books, 2003

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