Walking down a sunny Chicago sidewalk moments ago, I found myself confronted yet again by smiling chuggers. If you don’t know what a chugger is, you probably don’t live in either a big city or a college town—the term is a shortening of “charity mugger.” These seemingly ubiquitous, clipboard-toting young people smile at you, compliment your clothing, or just plain guilt-trip you, hoping to prey upon your better nature as they urge you to stop what you’re doing, listen to their charity pitch, and then fork over your credit-card number on the spot.
Maybe it’s just Mystery Month, but today I found myself thinking that a good mystery might start with someone discovering the body of a chugger who’s been murdered and dragged into a back alley. No, I’m not contemplating such a heinous deed—at least, not quite yet—but you have to admit it has possibilities. A world-weary detective, an idealistic victim, a crime committed in broad daylight, a policeman who looked the other way, etc.
Then it occurred to me that, actually, it’s sort of been done: Charles Willeford’s Miami Blues starts with Hoke Moseley’s investigation into the murder of a Hare Krishna in the Miami airport. If you’re willing to accept the notion that chuggers have replaced Hare Krishnas as a new generation’s amiable pests, there you have it. (Hoke and his partner, by the way, are more amused than mortified by the, um, occupation of the deceased; in my parallel plotline, I promise to treat the subject with more gravitas. Probably.)
Thoughts of Charles Willeford naturally reminded me of one of my all-time favorite Booklist mystery features, Frank Sennett’s “Stalking Charles Willeford’s Elusive Grimhaven.” If you’re intrigued by the idea of a book with only one copy, give it a read.
And if you’re interested in Willeford, try an author search on Booklist Online. The cult-favorite author may have died in 1988, years before our website launched, but we’ve still got enough reviews of his work to get you started.