Thursday, September 7, 2023

Somebody's Done For

Philadelphia crime-noir author David Goodis died on January 7, 1967 at age 49 from brain trauma after being beaten in a robbery. That same year, his final novel, Somebody’s Done For, was posthumously published, but failed to make much of a splash at the time. Thank heavens, Stark House Noir Classics have resurrected the novel as a trade paperback and Kindle ebook.

The protagonist is Calvin Jander, and as the novel opens, he is far from land in Delaware Bay treading water to save his own life following the unfortunate sinking of his rowboat during a solo fishing trip. Let me tell you, that first chapter grabs the reader right by the balls and gets your attention. The panic and fear associated with the certainty that the remainder of your life can be counted in minutes is palpable in Goodis’ prose.

The means by which Jander makes it to the beach on the New Jersey side is pretty amazing, so I won’t spoil it here. He is helped ashore by a beautiful woman named Vera who leads him to an abandoned jungle shack and warns him not to ask too many questions if he wants to live. This was undeveloped land back in 1967, so it’s the perfect place for wanted criminals to hide out far from civilization. Vera is laying low with a small but dangerous group who are less than thrilled about the intrusion of Jander in their hideout.

Jander could slip away easily enough, but we learn that he’s an office drone who always dreamt of being a hero. Vera is in a rough spot with these toughs, and Calvin owes her for saving his life. Maybe it’s hero time? Goodis does a nice job contrasting the aspirational heroism and rationality of Jander with the dangerous powderkeg of emotional irrationality displayed by the crew in the hideout.

Goodis slow-plays the explanation of why this group of dysfunctional, bickering psychopaths is hiding in the woods. When he finally explains their back-story, it’s predictably great.

Most of Goodis’ best work comes from his exploration of skid row bums, but this one follows a white collar professional thrust into a seedy underbelly of crime and dysfunction. It’s an oddly-paced novel that ventures into some pretty dark places. Ultimately, Somebody’s Done For is a satisfying novel that underscores the fact that Goodis was a unique talent taken from the world too soon. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

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