Showing posts with label David Goodis. Show all posts
Showing posts with label David Goodis. Show all posts

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.

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

The Cop on the Corner

Before becoming a mainstay of grim, noir fiction in the paperback original era, David Goodis (1917-1967) was a prolific writer of short stories for the pulp magazines. A handful of these early works has been digitized for modern audiences, including “The Cop on the Corner” from the September 1947 issue of Popular Detective Magazine.

Elrick is a tubby beat cop who spends most of his time on foot patrol loafing and chewing the fat with his friend who runs the newsstand on the corner. One day, their eternal conversation is interrupted by a couple kids who just found a dead body riddled with bullets in a nearby alley. Elrick immediately recognizes the corpse as a local gangster whom Ekrick knows from way back when the racketeer was a lowlife juvenile delinquent running the streets with criminal abandon.

Because of Elrick’s unique knowledge of the dead mobster’s history and associates, he hatches a plausible theory regarding the identity of the murderer. This presents the corpulent copper with an idea to solve the case himself, which will likely earn him a raise and a promotion to the Detective Bureau.

Elrick’s investigation takes him to a skid row alcoholic dame who he believes provides a key to unlocking the mystery of the dead hoodlum. Of course, none of this is as easy as it seems, and Elrick’s fallibility as an investigator leads to a well-crafted scene of bloody violence and a twisty solution.

The plot twist punchline was typical of the endings seen a decade later in the pages of Manhunt, a crime digest that printed several Goodis stories and novellas. “The Cop on the Corner” remains a fantastic read that shows Goodis at the top of his short story game before moving to longer works. If you can score a reading copy, you’ll be happy with your decision.

For reasons unclear to me, “The Cop on the Corner” is not available on Amazon, but it is available at Barnes & Noble for the hundreds of people on earth with Nook devices. There are also scanned and transcribed copies floating around the internet, including HERE.

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Visual Feature - David Goodis

Major announcement from the Paperback Warrior camp. After nine years of hard work, dedication, and consistency, we are making some changes. First, Episode 100 is broadcasting this Monday, August 29th. To celebrate this milestone, and to mark our next evolution, the episode will be offered in our normal audio version, available on multiple platforms. However, we've entered the film making business.

Episode 100, and hopefully future episodes, will simultaneously launch as videos available on YouTube and our blog at paperbackwarrior.com. Think of these as interactive, documentary styled films that accompany our audio. You wouldn't want to see us just talking into a microphone, so instead, we've created films showcasing books, pulp magazines, MAMs, author photographs, connected places, and tons of vivid artwork. The video matches the audio, offering you a more interactive experience. In other words...we are conquering vintage paperbacks in a whole new way.

In addition to our new episodes, we are creating and offering Visual Features on some of our favorite authors. These short films highlight our prior podcast features in a brand new way, complete with a visualized experience. 

Seeing is believing, so we have our very first Visual Feature online now! It's on respected crime-noir superstar David Goodis. You can watch below on YouTube, or at paperbackwarrior.com. Direct link is HERE.

Be sure to hit that SUBSCRIBE button.

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

The Burglar

As a career midpoint, The Burglar exemplifies everything we've grown to appreciate and admire about David Goodis. It was originally published as a paperback original by Lion Books and later reprinted by Black Lizard, Simon & Schuster, and a host of others. Goodis wrote the screenplay for the film adaptation, making it Goodis' only solo authored screenplay to actually be produced. The film was released in 1957 and starred Dan Duryea and Jayne Mansfield. In 1971, the French continued their fascination with the author by remaking the film with Omar Sharif and Jean-Paul Belmondo in starring roles. 

In flashback sequences, readers learn that Harbin experienced a poverty-ridden childhood. After his mother and father both die, Harbin hits the road and is picked up by a professional thief named Gerald. Harbin learns to become a skilled burglar under Gerald's tutelage. After Gerald is killed, Harbin is left to raise Gerald's young daughter Gladden. Over 18 years, Hardin's role transforms from Gladden's older brother to father, bringing the novel to the present with Hardin at age 34 and Gladden now 24. 

The opening chapters is a suspenseful heist as Harbin and his crew (two men and Gladden) rob a large mansion on Philadelphia's Main Line. The take is a whopping $100K in emeralds. But, the robbery didn't go as planned due to Harbin being interviewed by police outside of the mansion. Harbin miraculously explains his way out of the situation, but the police take note of his whereabouts. 

Back at the crew's “home”, a place deemed The Spot, Harbin makes the decision to send Gladden to Atlantic City for a few days while their hot status cools down a bit. While wasting the days, Harbin strolls around Philly with no real destination in mind. He contemplates the next move and his relationship with Gladden. But, a knockout named Della approaches Harbin at a bar and the two immediately hit it off. 

After a few chapters, Harbin and Della are in love and have the proverbial “white picket fence” lifestyle planned in the Pennsylvania countryside. The problem is multifaceted – Harbin has a criminal background that he needs to share with Della, he has a complicated relationship with Gladden that needs unraveling, and he has to leave the burglary business and his crew. The first one is easy, the second is an emotional implosion and the third becomes central to the book's propulsive plot.

As always, Goodis is one of the masters of crime-noir storytelling (arguably the very best) and The Burglar is about as good as it gets. The characters are dynamic, with each one facing extreme adversity while carrying heavy burdens. Both Della and Gladden are in love with Harbin, but his decision to choose one not only has a lasting impact on his own life, it controls the fate of the heist crew. There is the obligatory “running from the law” plot threads that keep the narrative at a brisk pace.

I like the author's subtext that theft is like a drug. It brings these characters emotional peaks and valleys while insuring they avoid the rat-race of a 9-to-5 job. At one point Harbin admits he has nothing he wants or even desires. He can't locate any material objects to buy with his $7K in walk-around money. Much less, where to spend his share of $25K from the most recent heist. It's not about the money, it's the adrenaline rush. 

If you just love a great story, The Burglar is absolutely fantastic. As a mid 20th century crime-noir, it's sheer perfection. Tangled love, the burden of criminality, greed's fascinating tug-of-war, flawed justice, the price of happiness, these compelling, prevalent plot-points just go on and on. Excellent books create meaningful discussion and The Burglar does just that. Highest recommendation. 

Get the book HERE.

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Night Squad

Philadelphia author David Loeb Goodis (1917-1967) wrote excellent crime novels about skid row losers rising above their alcoholism and misfortune to find justice and normalcy in their violent world. Although Goodis never achieved fame in the U.S. during his life, the French had a keen appreciation for his particular brand of noir. Night Squad was his 1961 paperback original from Fawcett Gold Medal that has been reprinted by Stark House Noir Classics as one of three novels in a trade paperback reprint.

Five weeks ago, Corey Bradford was canned from his job as a police officer for taking bribes from lawbreakers. After the death of his honest police officer father, he was raised by a wino mom in the skid row alleys he now calls home. As we join him, Corey is a boozehound stewbum sleeping on the streets of a city that’s never given a name. Goodis is a master at atmospheric descriptions of the slime-filled slum called the Swamp where rats crawl in the bedroom windows and gnaw on sleeping babies in their cribs. Yes, it’s one of those kind of novels.

The Swamp is under the thumb of a gangster named Walter Grogan, who hires Corey to figure out who is trying to kidnap him. There are several violent set-pieces where Corey is thrust into action trusting his wits and police training to save his own skin as well as his client’s hide. For his part, Grogan is a muscular 56 year-old athlete with a 24 year-old trophy wife who is hot to trot for Corey. If Grogan had any inkling that Corey and his temptress bride were up to anything, it’s a safe bet Corey would disappear to the bottom of the city’s lake.

And then there’s the Night Squad itself. They are a shadowy team of cops operating out of City hall beyond the strict boundaries of the law and police oversight. They are willing to reinstate Corey and return his badge in order to nail Grogan. There’s some great backstory explaining the Night Squad’s hard-on for Grogan that includes one of the most violent vignettes I’ve read in ages. Can Corey serve two masters and rebuild his life?

To be sure, there are a few slow sections, but mostly Night Squad is a pretty exciting, yet thin, paperback with some crazy-violent scenes, backstabbing, torture, gunplay, hot dames, a treasure hunt, and a shot at redemption. Upon reflection, it’s a nearly perfect crime-noir paperback and another win for Stark House, the imprint at the top of the reprint game. Read this one ASAP.

Monday, October 5, 2020

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 64

Paperback Warrior Podcast Episode 64 explores the legacy of author David Goodis. Also discussed: Black Berets! Eric leaves his house! Used Bookstore haul! Funeral home field trip! Antique store tirade! Wade Miller's Devil May Care! And more! Listen on your favorite podcast app, paperbackwarrior.com or download directly HERE

Listen to "Episode 64: David Goodis" on Spreaker.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Black Pudding

“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.

Buy a copy of this short-story HERE

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Black Friday

“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.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, December 17, 2018

Nightfall

“Nighfall” is a 1947 crime novel by genre great David Goodis. The book has been reprinted and released by Stark House Press along with "Cassidy's Girl and "Night Squad". Many rank this along with “Dark Passage” and “Down There” as the trio that immortalizes Goodis as a genre heavyweight. I've now read two of the three and have been extremely pleased with them. “Nightfall” is a highly-recommended embodiment of what makes this genre so addictive and compelling. 

The novel follows two distinct characters that hover around that gray area of right and wrong. One is Vanning, a thirty-something WWII veteran and successful commercial artist. The other is New York City detective Fraser, who's on the trail of Vanning and a case of stolen cash worth $300,000. How the two intersect and their roles in each other's lives is really the whole premise of “Nightfall”. It's an interesting clash of personalities and styles drizzled over the familiar “man on the run” narrative.

In back stories we learn that Vanning was unknowingly caught up in a trio of bank robbers from Seattle. The three made the cash grab and wreck their car outside of Denver. In a poor stroke of luck, Vanning comes to their aid only to find himself taken as a hostage. In a mysterious chain of events, Vanning awakens in a hotel bedroom with the suitcase and a revolver. Goodis throws the wrench in the gears by having Vanning shoot a bad guy (or was it really a good guy?) and then flee into the forest with the cash. But, in present day, we learn that Vanning doesn't have the money and has no idea where it is!

The reader is left with just enough information to propel the story but reserving the payoff until the closing chapter. Vanning is the good “bad guy”, but the real difficult decision is placed on Fraser, who's on to Vanning but believes he's an innocent spoke in this turning crime-wheel. While Fraser doesn't have a partner to relay his thoughts too, we the reader are subjected to his investigative mindset through interesting and sporadic phone conversations with his wife. Fraser contemplates his career, the investigation and whether he has internal fortitude to break the case. Vanning and Fraser are lovable opposites, but Goodis takes otherwise normal people and heaps immense pressure on them to see how they perform and interact. Oh, there's an obligatory beauty thrown in for Vanning because this is a crime novel.

Overall, “Nightfall” kept me on my toes throughout a riveting one-sit read. Goodis is just as good, or better, than advertised. I'm not sure I found any astonishing subtext or social commentary, but there are loads of sites out there that break the book down in various degrees of comprehension. Personally, I can't say enough good things about the author. Up next is “Dark Passage”...apparently the cream of the crop. 

Purchase your copy of "Nightfall" here.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Down There (aka Shoot the Piano Player)

“Down There” was written by crime novel icon David Goodis and released in 1956. The title was reworked to “Shoot the Piano Player” for the 1960 French film adaptation. Starting in 1962, the book was published under both names with different artwork for each version. 

This is my first taste of a Goodis novel, and by sampling just this body of work, I'll certainly enjoy more of it. He's an incredible storyteller with a career literary emphasis on the tragic downfall of a performing artist (painter, pianist, singer, etc). In Brian Ritt's “Paperback Confidential” (Stark House), it notes that author Ed Gorman once described the Goodis novels as suicide notes. “Down There”, while thoroughly enjoyable, is a despairing portrait of one man's decline and fits Gorman's umbrella description well.

In the book's opening we are introduced to Eddie, an ill-starred pianist working a crummy bar in the Port Richmond section of Philadelphia. In the early introduction, Eddie is the lovable loser – a loner going with the flow, broke with his only friend being Clarice, an equally hapless prostitute that lives and works down the hall. As the reader is becoming acquainted with Eddie, in walks his troublesome estranged brother Turley. It's obvious he's running from the baddies, which are later explained as Mob enforcers after some stolen loot. They make the connection that Eddie and Turley are siblings. Eddie, consistently avoiding his family for years, is now tangled in his brother's affairs. On one snowy night, Eddie thinks to himself, “they take the piano away and they give you a gun. You wanted to make music, and the way it looks from here on in you're finished with that, finished entirely. From here on in it's this gun”.


We later learn about Eddie's prior undoing, from rough childhood through the war in the South Pacific. With the fighting came a miraculous talent for the piano, one that he utilized to make it all the way to Carnegie Hall. In one fell swoop...it's all taken from him. Eddie, with brothers Turley and Clifton as excess baggage, attempts to avoid the Mob while struggling with a pesky professional wrestler turned bouncer. With that comes violent episodes as Eddie fights in bars and streets while running from the Mob and the law. The book's finale is a firestorm, with one of the best gunfights I've read in recent memory. It's a Tommygun, shotgun and revolver pirouette in an old Jersey farmhouse. 

The heart of the story is Eddie's relationship with the inspiring waitress Lena. She sees something special in Eddie, beyond the ruggedness and street grime. Equally broke, down on her luck and lacking ambition, she finds in Eddie the strength to carry on. Ultimately, it is this story that Goodis is telling us. In fact, I think a lot of what we learn about Eddie is what we learn about David Goodis. He lived an unusual lifestyle, from Hollywood to Philadelphia, experiencing rags to riches to rags in a tumultuous lifestyle. In fact, this paragraph could mirror the author's personal experiences after his debut, “Retreat from Oblivion” (1939), was critically panned. It references a pianist that Eddie knows, one that worked hard only to find his one Carnegie Hall performance, his moment of greatness, lambasted by critics:

“Sure, he cried. Poor devil. You wait so long for that one chance, you aim your hopes so high, and next thing you know it's all over and they've ripped you apart, they've slaughtered you.”

“Down There” is exactly that.

Friday, June 29, 2018

The Plunge

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.