G is for Goodis, Dark Prince of Noir.

I know – you were thinking G was for Grafton, but as the Kinsey Milhone series already made an appearance in a recent post on the most prolific female detectives, I get to resume my Alphabet of Crime with one of my all time favorites: David Goodis.

Close your eyes and think of “Noir.” What do you see, hear, feel?

A hot, lonely city street, after midnight, after the rain. A pair of doomed lovers, trapped in each other’s arms. Plaintive minor notes echoing from a solo trumpet somewhere in the night, chords achingly unresolved, a call as seductive as the sleep of death. A fall; a plunge from the some fleeting promise of a better place, a better life, down, down to the inky depths of despair.

This is the kind of noir that David Goodis wrote. Not the gritty proletarian tragedies of James M. Cain or the sadistic depravities of Jim Thompson, but achingly lyrical jazz noir swelling and ebbing with dark and sensuous poetry. His words were like wounds on the page – wounds that will never heal. He wrote them fast and he wrote them cheap, and he died before the age of fifty. He’d had his brush with fame: Bogart and Bacall starred in a classic adaptation of his Dark Passage. French cinéastes lapped him up, adapting his books again, and again. Then he became a nobody, and then he was gone, the ghost of a forgotten melody lost down some dark alleyway, the silent memory of a song.

Now he’s back in a handsome new volume from the Library of America (whose fine Crime Novels collections included his 1950 novel Down There) featuring five of his most lurid, longing noirs. I think every crime fan should read at least one David Goodis; I suggest Dark Passage or Down There. To learn more about this quintessential voice of American noir, check out Shooting Pool with David Goodis, an excellent website devoted to his life and works.

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