Tuesday, June 30, 2015

"Citizen's Arrest" by Charles Willeford

Mr. Goranovsky, also known as “Mr. Do-Gooder,” is a good citizen; honest, upstanding, with a certain civic-mindedness that compels him to find a clerk when he sees a man shoplifting. The store is called Gwynn’s, and it has an odd shoplifting policy. Since an employee didn’t see the actual snatch, they are loath to stop the man for fear, if he didn’t steal anything, of alienating a customer. They ask Mr. Goranovsky to be a witness when the man is approached. He hesitantly agrees, but quickly regrets his decision.

“Citizen’s Arrest” is deceivingly simple and overtly ironic. It takes the expected—crime, punishment, and possible retribution—and twists it into something unexpected. It is humorous, charming—in a hardboiled way—and exemplifies the idea that no good deed goes unpunished. The prose is simple—

“My fingers trembled as I lit a cigarette.”

—and, unusually, there are no first names. It is Mr. Goranovsky, Mr. Levine, Mr. Sileo, which gives the story an uptight formality. A formality that acts as a foil to the climactic twist. And the twist is what makes the story good.

“Citizen’s Arrest” originally appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine in 1966. I read it in the anthology The New Mammoth Book of Pulp Fiction edited by Maxim Jakubowski, which I recommend wholeheartedly.


Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Ben, I have heard of Charles Willeford but I'm afraid I have not read his work.

Ben Boulden said...

Prashant. I haven't read much of his work. A couple short stories is all. I do have a few of his novels around and I'm hoping to try one sooner rather than later.