Classic Crime

David Goodis

David Goodis was born on 2nd March 1917 in Logan, Philadelphia.

Not much is known about Goodis during his formative years but in 1938 he did graduate from Temple University with a degree in journalism.

Goodis' first novel was published a year later, in 1939, titled 'Retreat from Oblivion'. For the next three years he wrote many short stories under several pseudonyms, some of which were David Crewe, Logan Claybourne and Lance Kermit. David also moved to New York and wrote radio scripts for 'Hour of Mystery' and 'Superman' among others.

Later, Goodis relocated to Los Angeles to try his hand at screen writing. He tried his hand at several screen adaptations, none of which made it to the big screen. In 1943, David Goodis married Elaine Astor in California. The marriage was short lived and they were divorced by 1946.

One of David's most famous novels, 'Dark Passage' was published to great critical acclaim and Warner Bros purchased the movie rights. At the same time, they signed David Goodis up to a lucrative screenwriting contract.

In 1947, 'The Unfaithful' was released. This was to be the only film where David Goodis was credited as the screenwriter. In the same year, the film version of 'Dark Passage' was released - with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall in the starring roles.

In 1950, after a turbulent time in Hollywood, David returned to live permanently in Philadelphia. Over the folowing years Goodis released a steady stream of crime fiction novels.

It appears that Goodis produced a very strong output of novels and short stories until about 1963 when he launched an ill-fated lawsuit against ABC Television. It was alleged that Goodis believed the programme, 'The Fugitive' had plagiarised his novel, 'Dark Passage'. In the same year David's father passed away.

Three years later, in 1966, his mother also passed away. With a damaging lawsuit and Goodis' continuing depression, this was to be the straw that finally broke the camel's back. Goodis was briefly institutionalised in a psychiatric hospital. Whilst recovering in the hospital, Goodis' physical health worsened and David Goodis died on 17th January 1967.

Review: Black Friday and Selected Stories

Goodis lead a solitary life and, although sadly passing away at the early age of forty-nine, his death was given little attention by the outside world. Despite his sad ending, Goodis' writing has survived and even all this time after their first publication, his novels and short stories surface from time to time.

Serpent's Tail and Adrian Wootton have put together a wonderful collection of Goodis' work which is likely to make the hard core Pulp Fiction lover - or a mere newcomer like myself - salivate and become nostalgic for those days long lost to time.

Whilst reading Black Friday, I had images in my mind of old black and white gangster movies like James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart in 'Angels with Dirty Faces'.

Black Friday starts with Hart in the freezing streets of Philadelphia. His crime is killing his brother, which is explored throughout the novel. He sees a man being killed and, being desperate, he runs off with the dead man's cash-filled wallet. Little does Hart know that the money belongs to a man who is willing to kill anyone who has stolen from him. Hart is cornered and taken back to the house where a motley group of people live under one roof. Hart has no option but to plead his case and stay on with the group who pull burglaries at huge mansions to earn their keep.

Although not a great deal actually happens in Black Friday, it is the mounting tension during those scant 169 pages that really gripped me. It is a typical gangster novel of that time and shows a master of suspense at work playing on the way that people react to one another when they are cooped up in the same house, 24/7.

Also with this collection is a selection of short stories. This is where I believe Goodis excels as a crime writer. In just a few pages Goodis portrays well-rounded characters and tells their story succinctly, yet you can feel they have heart at the centre of the story. My favourite story of the collection is The Dead Laugh Last, which is a tragic tale about love, jealousy and deception with a very sad, yet moving finale.

This is a truly marvellous collection and a fitting tribute to a writer who's writing has often floated in and out of obscurity. I hope that another collection will shortly be winging its way to our bookshelves. I, for one, am keen to sample more of this man's great prose.

Reviewed by: C.S.

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