Fans of classic hard-boiled and noir literature would be well-advised to keep a stack of short story anthologies handy to cleanse the pallet when you are between novels. Short fiction was an important medium for the best paperback authors to experiment with new ideas, find their voices, and put bread on the table.
During the 1940s and 1950s, noir master David Goodis wrote about losers and outsiders for a living. His short crime novels are, for the most part, brilliant works that captured the brooding imagination of French readers more than he ever caught fire in the U.S. In 1958, “Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine” published a Goodis short story called “The Plunge” that was later collected in a 2002 anthology edited by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins called “A Century of Noir.”
The story is about an honest police detective named Roy Childers who does his job honorably in a cesspool of police corruption. He’s a family man who avoids starches and sweets and only smokes after meals (Greetings from 1958!). After a transfer from Vice to Homicide, Childers remains disappointed with the widespread incompetence and graft among his fellow officers making him a bit of a loner on his squad. He prides himself on being a clean public servant in a dirty department.
“The Plunge” tracks Childers’ investigation of a payroll robbery turned homicide that he believes was conducted by his childhood friend turned hood, Dice Nolan (Editor’s Note: if you name your son Dice, buckle in for a wild ride). Childers returns to the slums of his childhood running down leads to capture the elusive Nolan until the trail leads to a woman who may or may not have answers.
Goodis really was a helluva writer and this is one of the finest short stories I’ve ever read. The ending is so real and so raw that it deserves to be remembered as a classic. Goodis knew his way around the grim and the hopeless better than anyone. If blues was prose, he was the Muddy Waters of American literature, and “The Plunge” is absolutely essential reading.
For its part, “A Century of Noir” is a fat-free, 520-page anthology anchored by short stories from the best of the best. Highly recommended.