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Pick-Up

4.03 of 5 stars 4.03  ·  rating details  ·  822 ratings  ·  78 reviews
He Holed Up With a Helpless Lush Prowling the grimy streets of San Francisco low-life, Helen is a beautiful, sensuous drunk - and a pathetically easy pick-up. Harry just wants to help, but before long he and Helen are both adrift in a sea of alcohol - until Harry conceives the ultimate crime... First published 1954.
Paperback, 191 pages
Published June 28th 1955 by Beacon (first published 1955)
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The Big Sleep by Raymond ChandlerThe Maltese Falcon by Dashiell HammettThe Long Goodbye by Raymond ChandlerFarewell, My Lovely by Raymond ChandlerThe Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain
Best Noir
71st out of 463 books — 526 voters
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Black Lizard
6th out of 73 books — 4 voters


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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,560)
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Steve
Years ago I read Willeford's Miami Blues. It was good crime novel, that kind of reminded me of Elmore Leonard (second drawer), or Carl Hiasson. (The Hare Krishna scene at the airport was a keeper). It was made into a good movie with Fred Ward and Alec Baldwin (still the best thing I've seen Baldwin in). As I said, the book was solid, but it perplexed me a bit, because I was aware that Willeford was held in high regard by crime writers like Leonard. Looking back, I'm guessing at this late point i ...more
Tfitoby
A far cry from the Hoke Moseley novels this bleak piece of nihilism is a novel that astounds with its dedication to the central theme of despair, anguish, alienation and self destruction. Harry meets Helen in a diner, they are high functioning alcoholics, they get together and proceed to push each other further in to oblivion until suicide is a very real option for both of them and Willeford doesn't flinch once from his evocative descriptions of their state of mind. A lack of respect and underst ...more
Richard Vialet
Man, that was depressing! A bleak and nihilistic look at a destructive relationship and the negative effects of alcoholism. I imagine that if David Goodis and Jim Thompson teamed up to write the screenplay for the movie Days of Wine and Roses, they would've churned out this novel!

Failed painter and alcoholic Harry Jordan meets a pretty blonde lush named Helen in the bar and grill where he works. They almost instantly fall head over heels for each other, but anyone with common sense can tell that
...more
Krok Zero
Dayumn. Willeford was one subversive motherfucker in the '50s. Like his contemporaneous masterpiece The Woman Chaser , this is a dark novel with serious ambition and zero pretense toward the pulp thrills promised by its original marketing--or even its current marketing, deceptively packaged in the Library of America's 1950s crime-novel volume. But unlike The Woman Chaser, which was basically a very deranged comedy, Pick-Up is pure nihilism, a sustained howl of bleak, hopeless agony. Honestly, it ...more
Ruth Turner

This story felt a bit rushed to me. The downwards spiral, after Harry and Helen met, seemed to happen too fast; just a few weeks.

The ending came as no surprise, although the second last line was, but that didn't effect my overall view of the book.

A quick read, but not an easy one. In fact, it was downright depressing.
Patrice
Aug 05, 2014 Patrice rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Patrice by: a friend and mentor
This is one of the best books I've read in quite some time. 165 pages of superb, concise writing that delves into the deepest, darkest reaches of the human psyche.
Helen and Harry are complex, obsessive and totally lost. This is brilliant. I never feel pity for them, just a sinister fascination and understanding. You respect their honesty, commiserate with their self-destruction on some level.

This is a classic must-read if you can locate a copy. I guarantee when I got to the end, many areas beca
...more
Patrick
A couple of down and out transients drink and pass time in 1950s San Francisco. Good hard boiled style. This novel has a SURPRISE ENDING. I usually don't like gimmicks at the end of stories, but this one makes you re-think your IMAGINING of the narrative. Four stars.
Frank
Wow, a big thank you to LoA for bringing this to my attention. I'd never heard of the writer, much less this novel. It is also available as a free ebook at Munsey's: it was originally published as an unpretentious pulp novel, in one of those cheap pockets with lurid covers. But there's a very serious author at work here. The story is about a down-and-out ex-artist who hitches up with an equally down-and-out and even more alcoholic ex-socialite. The first part reads like a novel version of Barfly ...more
Frank Jude
Charles Willeford is most known for the popular Hoke Mosely series, his twisted take on the ‘hard-boiled’ tradition of crime literature. But his earliest work is something else, again! Along with someone like David Goodis, Willeford writes about characters stuck “down there” but never merely for the sake of decadence or shock value. Willeford presents a uniquely american existentialism with, as David Cochran notes, an ideological edge radical for its time:

“Willeford created a world in which the
...more
Jim
Mar 27, 2014 Jim rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: noir
I don't know whether I should do this or not, but this is not the novel you think it is; and you won't know what it is about until the very last page.

Charles Willeford writes about the relationship of Harry Jordan with Helen Meredith, whom he meets at a bar. She moves in with him, and their relationship begins on a high note. But as time goes by, it appears that Helen is an incurable alcoholic. Harry drinks, too, but he is more functional and marginally able to hold down simple jobs. But when H
...more
Tracie
I went into this book with the wrong expectations; I can blame both the description on the back of the book as well as my own misconception that Willeford writes dark comedies. Because this isn't a comedy. It's noir and it's fantastic noir, but it's not funny and it's not the book that I was expecting. (Which is not to say it's bad or that I didn't enjoy reading it; I maybe didn't understand the book as I was reading, but the more I digest it, the more I come to enjoy it for what it is.) I kept ...more
Patrick James
Oh man. What a strange story. Do not read the last page ahead of time for it will spoil one of the more haunting 'plot twists' ever. Not so much a plot twist as a paradigm shift of revelation, forcing you to go back through all of your impressions about the strange events in the story. Some of the dialogue had seemed a bit dear for the character I had constructed in my mind, but now I'm uncertain about it and several other things in the book. What is interesting, and this is not a spoiler, is th ...more
Mac
This book is interesting because a significant portion of it hangs on the last line - in fact, it's one of those books that turns (or tries to turn) everything over in the last few words. It works, kind of, but the effect is somewhat cheap and tries to change what the book is "about." Close, but not quite a success.

Aside from the content-shifting twist, the plot is very similar to Jean-Paul Sartre's story "The Wall," which is basically an existentialist thought-problem in narrative form. The two
...more
Scott Tobias
With this, only his second novel, Willeford has secured a place among my favorite writers. (Yes, yes, what an honor.) It's not the most polished piece of craft, but it's an utterly shocking and uncompromising portrait of two alcoholics who meet, fall in love, and circle the drain together. Their shared fatalism gives this book a dark kick-- when the money runs out, the pair become so resigned to inevitability (indeed, the welcome embrace) of death that when they're confronted by an armed mugger, ...more
Jawrsh
Another bleak, drunken noir set in SF, by the great Willeford. Bibulous fry-cook meets self-destructive beauty, falls for her. They move into his flophouse and gradually sink into a well of depression resulting in a failed suicide pact, brief institutionalization, and finally a successful suicide pact; well, successful for her. When our hero(?) awakens to find his beloved dead, presumably by his own hand, he is jailed for weeks, only to be released on a technicality. Terse, atmospheric prose and ...more
Andy
Apr 23, 2008 Andy rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: manic depressives
Shelves: pulp-fiction
This book is the literary equivalent to the “Cinema of Transgression” (Nick Zedd/Richard Kern) where a couple hit the bottom via alcohol and depravity and reach even lower than humanly possible. The twist ending will make you crazy. I can’t get this book out of my mind. An overlooked classic.
Andy
This is about as noir as you can get. Pick-Up follows a binge of Harry and Helen, two alcoholics whose lives have no meaning when they're not drunk. Ironically the world they live in isn't that dark. Throughout the novel, most of the people the couple encounter are helpful and kind. The hard-boiled, plain writing style is very matter-of-fact. It reminds me a little of Woolrich in it’s sad, melancholy tone, but without as much melodrama.

The storyline here is a little too crazy to be believed. The
...more
Larry Webber
A nihilistic romance noir on a bender, with a twist.
Some have said this is a very depressing novel and I would agree insofar as this is not one of his more humorous works.
H L
Of all the hard-boiled authors out there, Willeford may be the most underrated. This is a classic piece of genre fiction, easily the equal of Chandler, Hammett, Cain...
Chris
A bleak tale of alcoholism which reads like a proto-Bukowski novel but with an extra dose of pessimism. And watch out for the ending, it is a game changer!
Bro_Pair أعرف
Picks up pretty nicely a third of the way in, Willeford kind of plays possum, though his dialogue's a bit wooden. And terrific twist ending
Jamie Grefe
Excellent exploration of addiction as only Willeford can tell. At once personal, touching, haunting, and familiar.
Stephen
This one really reminded me of one of my other favourite reads this year, Shoot the Piano Player by David Goodis. Same sort of bleak main character for whom everything is going wrong and both were written in the mid 1950's. Can't say much more without giving the story away other than that the two final sentences of this one totally turn around the perspective on the whole thing in a very clever way - WARNING: DO NOT, WHATEVER YOU DO, SKIP AHEAD AND READ THE FINAL PAGE. YOU MUST LEAVE IT UNTIL TH ...more
Jessica
Terrific and bleak. And I might change my last name to Hingen-Bergen.
Andy
Read this twice now.
Luke
Willeford is well above the typical thriller. He writes existential shockers. Pick-Up is a quick example of one; welcome, Bukowski fans. Washed-up Henry ( “Thats right, I've gone from job to job drinking when I’ve had the money, working for more when I ran out.") falls in love with a girl and both begin a slow, twisting freak show of domestic San Francisco. Before you realize you've been expecting a Vintage Black Lizard crime novel, you're enamored and dead center in a dressing down of depressio ...more
wally
#12 from willeford for me, paperback version, & not counting three blank white pages at the end (binding?) this one is 164 pages. these black lizard editions have "kirwan" on the cover...this one is on the keychain thingy, room 5, but w/"kirwan" below the number...Burnt Orange Heresy has it over the painting 'long w/a date there...1986.

did i see that this was originally published in '55?
this edition published in '87, t'would appear...yet w/a copyright of 1967 for it...meh...go figure.

story b
...more
Joshua
I loves me some classic pulp fiction, and Charles Willeford is about as quirky as the genre comes.

Pick-Up is a deceptively simple tale of a disenchanted and down and out painter and alcoholic who hooks up with a beautiful and insane woman. It is a story of true love and true hard-boiled dysfunction. Unfortunately pretty much anything I say about it will be a spoiler. Pick-Up reads like an amalgam of Elmore Leonard, Ken Kesey, and Kurt Vonnegut and has two very bizarre and very unpredictable twi
...more
Nicholas Branigan
Oct 06, 2007 Nicholas Branigan rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: non racists
great early willeford. no frills pulp style writing, better than chandler in my opinion, but i guess that this is more the exploits of a drunk transient rather than a no-bullshit cop. takes place in frisco post-wwII-- i.e. rain swept streets, streetcars, all night cafeterias and cavernous bars drowsy with smoke and punchy sailors. it follows the soul numbing routine of one man, a former artist, turned fry-cook, who lives in one room, furniture barren boardinghouse and only makes enough money for ...more
Patrick McCoy
Pick Up (1955) by Charles Willeford is another intriguing noir-ish thriller about people living on the edge. Harry Jordan is barely getting by as a fry cook with a taste for booze when he meets Helen a fellow boozer. It calls to mind the film Barfly as they spell trouble for each other in the way that they enable each other in their downward spiral. In a sense the story is a mediation on art and success and the will to live. Helen and Harry are depressive and seem to egg each other on when they ...more
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Charles Willeford was a remarkably fine, talented and prolific writer who wrote everything from poetry to crime fiction to literary criticism throughout the course of his impressively long and diverse career. His crime novels are distinguished by a mean'n'lean sense of narrative economy and an admirable dearth of sentimentality. He was born as Charles Ray Willeford III on January 2, 1919 in Little ...more
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