“Black Pudding” by David Goodis (1917-1967) began its literary life as a novella in the December 1953 issue of “Manhunt Magazine.” The story was also included in Bill Pronzini’s essential 1995 anthology, “Hard-Boiled” and was a bonus story tacked onto the 2006 paperback reissue of Goodis’ “Black Friday.”
The mandatory sad-sack loser in this Goodis work is Ken Rockland, a Philiadelphia street person with 31 cents to his name dreaming of a day he can scrape together 80 cents for some egg-foo-young. Through an expository flashback, we learn that Ken wasn’t always a skid row bum. He was once part of a successful armed-robbery crew in California before a double-cross landed him in San Quentin for the past nine years. Now that he’s out, two of his old crew-mates have located him and want him dead as a preemptive strike against anticipated retaliation from Ken.
Ken ducks the first attempt on his life and takes to ground on the mean streets of Philly in this fast-moving manhunt story. He finds sanctuary with a physically and emotionally scarred woman named Tillie who offers tactical and logistical help to friendless Ken. Once it’s established where his former partners are hiding, Ken needs to decide whether to keep his distance or control his own fate with some bloody vengeance.
You can imagine which option makes for more compelling action, and “Black Pudding” (a metaphor for revenge) does not disappoint. The writing is terse and to the point, and Goodis makes his loser heroes jump off the page with real humanity peppered with their bad decisions. At about 30 pages, you won’t be disappointed by this essential entry into a noir master’s body of work. Highly recommended.
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