“Black Friday” is a 1954 short novel - originally published by Lion Books - by Philadelphia noir master David Goodis, an author who has become more appreciated since his 1967 death than he ever was when he was alive. He’s often called the “king of the losers” because his stories have such a grim, downbeat tone and his heroes are often drawn from ranks of skid row bums.
Hart is one such protagonist - slowly freezing to death on the streets of Philadelphia while trying to decide whether to mug a hobo for his overcoat, commit suicide or just keep shivering. His frigid wandering brings him to a man lying on the sidewalk bleeding to death from a gunshot wound. The stranger parishes after giving Hart the his wallet loaded with cash. However, the killers aren’t far behind, and Hart becomes their focus as they pursue him for the wallet and its contents.
This pretty simple setup brings Hart into the hideout of a heist crew that includes a violent ex-boxer and a buxom platinum blonde who immediately shows a sexual interest in Hart. As the story unfolds, we learn more about Hart’s background and it turns out he wasn’t always such a bum. He attended University of Pennsylvania and at one time owned a yacht. He’s on the run for a crime he either did or did not commit (no spoilers here) in New Orleans, so hiding out with this crew is actually pretty good timing. The big question is will Hart join the crew or just use them as a way-station en route to freedom?
Be warned: this is a dark and violent paperback that goes in some unexpected directions with beatings, murder, dismemberment, a sad skinny woman and a horny fat woman. It’s also sexy as hell in a non-graphic 1950s fashion. Goodis writes the novel is a dispassionate third-person, so the reader is really a fly on the wall watching the tense mayhem unfold and making guesses about characters’ secrets. There’s not a ton of action in the novel’s second act, but the interpersonal dynamics in the hideout never failed to hold my interest.
All this leads up to a compelling conclusion, and Goodis’ writing is particularly solid. “Black Friday” has been reprinted several times since its release 65 years ago. The 2006 edition may be of particular interest to Paperback Warrior readers as it contains several bonus stories Goodis wrote for the pulp and digest magazines. However you do it, don’t skip “Black Friday.” It’s something special.
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