So, you were expecting the cover of my book? This is Delaware Bay, on the edge of the Pine Barrens, where Somebody's Done For takes place (see below). Evening or morning? Rising or setting sun?. Three novels have crucial scenes in the Jersey Pine Barrens, a place of thick vegetation, wildlife, isolated houses and dirt roads. Legends exist of misbegotten souls (the Jersey Devil), ghost towns, and isolated inbred families. In Down There, it is where the protagonists’ criminal brothers hide. In The Burglar, on a highway made nearly undriveable by rain and wind, a panicked thief shoots two cops. In Goodis’ final story, Somebody’s Done For, a man named Jander becomes enthralled by a ghostly, remote female who is herself in the clutches of an incestuous father.JUMP TO: The Burglar Shoot the Piano Player Somebody's Done For PS
InThe Burglar, the point beyond which there is no turning back is a rainy night on the Black Horse Pike, as it enters the Pine Barrens with its soaking, wind-bent trees. One of Nat Harbin’s gang of “honorable” (no violence) thieves suspects an ambush. He kills a traffic cop who was just warning the driver to slow down. The shooter was upset b/c Nat, the boss, had told his guys he was thinking of quitting. Suspicion of betrayal moved in. Driving on Black Horse Pike in a nor’easter becomes a dark wet path to the unknown. The final stop on that path is the Atlantic Ocean, the only place where the hero and heroine can be together, in a classic of screwy father-son obligation and doomed romanticism.
In Shoot the Piano Player, piano player Eddie’s brothers’s hideout is in South Jersey, “deep in the woods.” Rt 47 is named, which passes by southern NJ near the Pine Barrens highway. The hideout is so isolated that there is no post office nearby. Mail has to be picked up in a small town nine miles away. The house has no electricity or water pipes, and no connection to outside world. The furniture is "scraggly," with stuffing hanging out. Also present is the piano Eddie learned on. He is back where he started—with his criminal family. But the piano, instrument of escape, is replaced by a gun. Due to the brothers’ thievery, they are cornered by thugs who want their dough back.
"It ain't a house, it's just a den for hunted animals." He has to keep his girl friend Lena away from it, though he wants desperately her to be with him. And yet she’s found her way there. It is another example of doomed romanticism, a point from which one returns, if at all, further trapped in a psychic dark wood symbolized by the isolation and indifference of a world barren of justice.
Goodis’ final novel, Somebody’s Done Foris set on edge of South Jersey’s Delaware Bay. The isolated setting of water, cloud, and marsh is ideal for testing resolve and perseverance to the point of death.
This is a map used as part of an unidentified robbery scheme hatched somewhere in the Barrens. I use it here because it shows pine trees,and a car driving through the snow, just as Eddie and Lena did to reach the hideout. It embodies a mystery almost beyond words, except for those of a writer like Goodis. It also applies to Somebody's Done For . There is another hideout in this story: "seemingly crouched there in the darkness like something alive, the black hulk revealed itself to Jander."The action of Somebody's Done For is played out about 50 miles to the south of the Pine Barrens, where Eddie meets his obligations to his criminal brothers. Calvin Jander saw Vera dancing at a bizarre night club, The Amethyst (all the performers wear purple, the color of the semi-precious stone). The club is near the decrepit house (see image above) that Vera shared with her murderous “father” and vindictive “mother.” She had been kidnapped as a child; the ransom scheme fell through.
My last chapter of Pulp, According to David Goodis discusses the creative strength of his last novel. SDF is about the never-ending human conflict between desire for happiness and the forces that oppose it, chiefly the power of family and state obligation. Vera is like Lena (Down There), Celia (Street of No Return), Edna (The Blonde on the Street Corner), Myrna (Black Friday), and other ethereal females whom the protagonist yearns after. Fate, and the femme fatale, intervene—which to say, certain characteristics in the protagonist’s psyche doom the romance. Goodis uses the Amethyst myth imply purity, spirituality, and ancient blood. All that, and obsessive belief.
BTW: One of the biggest U.S. deposits of amethyst is in Delaware County
Goodis' first pulp story, 1939 ("Mysteries of the White Slave trade," Gangland Detective Stories:"Dink Bauer didn't know [that floozie's] vengeful passion would turn him into a chopper-ridden corpse."Jump to: It's a Wise Cadaver The Plunge Professional Man
Goodis’ short stories span the entire range of his career from 1939 to about 1960. Therefore, the incidents, plots, and responses to fate and betrayal are similar in both his stories and his novels. Pulp magazine writers use crime, detective, horror, war, exotic adventure, and any combination of story that exploits a sinister atmosphere. That is due to the way these genres imply panic, fear, hatred, aggression, vengeance and venality as what seem to be survival strategies. The best stories comment on the entanglement in and resignation to a bureaucratic system that ignores corruption, taxes regressively, and demands war-time preparedness. "It's a Wise Cadaver," New Detective (1946) has hints of Goodis' major themes. Poverty (Greenwich Village tenement) makes a father desperate. His son has lied to him and not given him money for his part in a con scheme. Considering his son worthless, he kills him with an axe. Goodis leads us to wonder if the father feels remorse. But he kills himself by jumping out of a window – whether for remorse or b/c he knows a gang boss whose money was invested in the scheme will find him and torture him to death (“know what he will do to you”?). A title Goodis may have used earlier—“The Laughing Trap”—might have been better applied to this story, if the person laughing was the same indifferent force—a street, the moon-- that that sneered at the protagonists in The Moon in the Gutter, Behold This Woman, or Night Squad.
In The Plunge" (Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine, 1958) the detective Roy Childers, with a solid family life, is unfaithful b/c he has fallen for a classy center city apt – dweller, who is the mistress of a criminal whom the cop knew as a kid in a tough neighborhood. The criminal has been nothing but kind and frank with the young woman. He is now being hunted, accused of murder. Childers wants to be with her regardless of the agony that awaits him as a betrayer of the police force, his wife and children, and his community. He has shut himself off from the “sane,” “responsible,” part of himself, in order to save his soul by being honest about his spontaneous but deeply real needs. “It didn’t make sense . . . it was a kind of lunacy.” But for Roy Childers there is no turning back. In the white heat of a moment of blazing recrimination and gunfire, the lieutenant kills the mobster. Now, the woman cannot trust Roy. A moment later he finds out that his professional adversary was not guilty.. At this point, he is cut adrift from his deepest self, from his soul. There is nothing beyond his double-barreled guilt and single-minded self-loathing but a void. He opens a window, speaking into the indifferent universe, begging forgiveness of a wife from whom he had kept his disloyalty. He had “tried so hard to be clean” but had “got[ten] himself all dirty.” As he plunged to his death, “He began to feel clean again.” That sacrifice hurts his family terminally, and his colleagues as well.
The one second of wrong decision is like Eddie or Cassidy – fate, bad luck, beyond power to control.
Freddy Lamb, a "Professional Man" (Manhunt, 1953), operates an elevator by day and is a hit man by night. Herman Charn, his boss, is obsessed with testing his men’s loyalty. Freddy is tested by Charn's assignment to kill Pearl. She has rejected the boss, b/c she is in love with Freddy. He forces himself to carry out the boss’s orders.
Freddie’s way of freeing himself from Charn and his combine was to stab himself in the heart after slitting Pearl’s throat. Herman had told Freddie, “You gotta need me as much as I need you.” The boss lost his investment, not quite being correct in his assessment that his hit man “was all ice and no soul, strictly a professional.”
“Professional Man” is a story of self-entrapment and moral failure, not b/c the protagonist is tied to monetary gain or a coward, but b/c—like almost everybody else—he doesnot have it in him to be independent. He is a lamb, in an environment where such a person is a certain loser, a Nowhere Man.
Key plot elements in pulp are entrapment, murder as business, violence as a way of life, sexual compulsion, and blind, indifferent fate. Goodis’ heroes, however manic, entrapped, self-isolated, detached and sometimes facing existence with an ironic, no-where man kind of smile, are not mean or vicious. They have souls, and they know it. So they are lonely, angry, and distrusted. Their tragedies are those of The Common Man in post-war America.
Here is Pilot Goodis, noble loser, bailing out, East of Chunking, amid Zeros--in a bad dream. There was no pulp genre more dedicated to making readers proud of their country than the air war yarns in which Goodis excelled. He was a sort of king of the genre (rather as H Ron Hubbard was king of sci-fi yarns): Army-Navy Flying Stories, Fighting Aces, RAF Aces, Flying Aces, Wings, Battle Birds, Dare Devil Aces, Captain Combat, The Lone Eagle. Collector and author Walker Martin estimates that he may have written 100 of these. Since he developed a reputation among publishers of the genre, when one or more stories under the house names Byron P Short, Roy C Raney, David Crewe, Logan C. Claybourne, Roy Shotwell, and/or Lance Kermit
“Kid Brother”, RAF Aces (Canadian), Dec 1944 The “kid” is a conscientious objector. He is thought, of course, to be a coward. After an altercation with a soldier at an airfield, which leads to the latter being killed in the Nazi raid, the kid is told that if he is sorry, he should go fight for his country. So he does, out of remorse at his part in the soldier’s death. “A mad mixture of anguish and horror and self-hatred made a torturing flame within him.” Goodis builds up suspense as Allan refuses to shoot but escapes the Nazi planes through skill. But when he sees his brother in trouble, he does. “It’s taken a rather rough sky party [Brit dry wit] to prove to me you can’t fight Nazi bullets with peace pamphlets.” While Goodis' conscientious objector story line is daring in an air war yarn, it pales in comparison with Steve Fisher’s “For My Country” (Fighting Aces, November 1940), set during World War I. Flier Marvin Miller must watch while his brother is executed for cowardice. He refused to engage a German pilot and flew away. The reason was, the condemned man confides to his brother, that a third brother, John, was flying the German bi-plane. He had been in Germany in 1914 and was impressed into the air force. Later, Marvsights his brother, and begs off, explaining that his guns jammed. But the next day, as John waves at him from his cockpit, Marvin dispatches his brother’s plane.
“ The Cloud Wizard,” Sky Raiders, February 1943: Bersbee was a leader of his RAF squadron, with 27 kills. He gave the other flyers confidence they had to have. A reclusive soul who never executed playboy-type spins and sharp dives, he was a detached, severe individual, but as he had saved many fellow flyers with Messerschmidts on their tails, his aloofness simply made him more God-like. One flyer, Meader, wants to speak with him. The result is a fist fight with a member of the squadron that does not want Bersbee annoyed. Later, Meader learns of the pressure Bersbee was under as he tried to figure out the math formulae that would make him and the group successful. Bersbee breaks down weeping when Meader forces the explanation out of him—a binge of desk-pounding, paper-crumpling howls “like a child who purposely tries to cry so hard he cannot catch his breath.” Meader, appalled, blames his own lone wolf stubbornness at finding out the proper explanation for whatever comes into his line of vision. Perhaps he too was a little too tough. The next day Bersbee dies in his Spitfire, refusing, as Meader knew he would, to bail out. And Meader takes Bersbee’s place as the anxious lone wolf, existing with the slide rule and mathematical calculations that he uses to perfect the flying skills that save many men, as he dives from the clouds to surprise the Nazis. He is the new larger-than-life super hero with the same secret life that eventually martyred his predecessor.
The highest flyers suffer and sacrifice the most, in many kinds of pulp.
One of Goodis’ lesser known novels, Of Missing Persons has not been reprinted since the Pocket Books paperback in 1951. Morrow published the first edition in 1950, and made arrangements with the Detective Book Club later that year. Goodis’ biographer, Philippe Garnier, scrutinized Hollywood records and found that the author wrote 11 treatments for it in 1948. The next year, a Warners story editor tried to get it produced as a strong vehicle for Bogart or Cagney. Goodis’ research on how a Missing Persons department worked (he dedicated the novel to the head of the LAPD unit) was a strong point, as were the “human values” reflected in the pressures of the job, and the motives for the murder. There is no sign of the amorality, sadism, vengeance, and interoffice jealousy in “City Hall’s” copland that play a role in Night Squad, Down There, or The Burglar. The back flap of the Morrow dust jacket calls the Missing Persons bureau chief Paul Ballard “a man of great personal integrity.” The similarity of Ballard to later Goodis police chiefs is that Ballard's frustration at the obstacles that confront him are like those that almost floor the captain of Philly's "Hellhole" precinct in Street of No Return.
Goodis was hanging around with good mystery writers. Carleton won a MWA award in 1945 for Cry Wolf, later a movie. Vickers wrote over 60 crime novels, some adopted for films and Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Ellington published in Mike Shane Mystery Magazineand Manhunt, as did Goodis.
The image (press on the previous word and scroll just above and to the left) of Ballard in the Pocket Books edition is a good characterization of a strong-willed, beefy, intense man, used to dealing with distraught and desperate people. The rest of the cover drawing is typically prurient, a panicked, coltish blonde with her blouse revealing a bit of her slip.
Goodis was given permission to publish the book, with Warners reserving all movie rights in case they wanted to dramatize it in the future. The best essay on this novel is by Cullen Gallagher in his Pulp Serenadewebsite. I had thought Of Missing Persons a hollow whodunit until he showed me how it had a place in the “long line” of Goodis protagonists thanklessly “dedicated to a craft.”
THE PLOT: Ballard has to talk Myra Nichols, a distraught woman, out of jumping from the widow ledge of his office. She has just accused him of foolishly closing the case on her husband, whom he thought to be dead. A local tabloid is attacking him for incompetence and bullying tactics. His staff disputes this, but Ballard, whom his wife wants to quit a pressurized job that has him gobbling pills, sleepless, and constantly pissed off at City Hall, resigns. He relished the decision: “it would be a showdown and it would be thick, black pudding [revenge]. It would taste wonderful. All the guff he had taken, … thrown back in their faces.” He is tired of being a “walking Gibraltar” while dealing with insurance companies, newspapers, lawyers, and social service workers—let alone frightened loved ones of people gone missing.Then, Myra turns up dead, and a woman named Mrs Jean Landis tells Ballard that Mr Nichols, still alive, is enamored of her. Ballard is rough on her—for a reason. He suspects Nichols has raped her, but (in 1952), no woman would admit that to anyone unless she feared that if she did not, she would be tried for murder (in this case, of Myra Nichols) so Jean and Mr Nichols could marry. Jean uses the phrase "he attacked me." It’s an example of how language itself imprisons a person by preventing a “decent woman” from uttering (in 1950) such an "indecent" word as “rape.” Too bad that Goodis, as Gallagher stress, did not develop other characters except the hero, Ballard. What did Jean think of being bound by an obligation to be “decent” even if it could have put her in the electric chair?
AS Cullen G. also points out, the book had a “Hollywood ending.” It needed to “appeal to wide audiences”- those who wanted something more conventional than a noir finish. The moral: “a cop has a hard life.” It works for one of the entries in the “Morrow Mysteries” line (see image above), or for a movie starring, maybe, Cagney in a hero role to counter that of a mommie-loving psycho (White Heat).
Goodis was perfectly frank about rape in Street of the Lost, The Moon in the Gutter [the image below is from the 1982 French adaptation], Of Tender Sin, and Night Squad. Those paperbacks were meant to be frank about sex and violence, which was why they flew off newsstand racks and why, as well, they were examples of how moral crusades about “indecent” books made paperback publishers and authors fighters for freedom of expression.
Gallagher’s most resonant point about Ballard is that his struggle is “Sisyphean.” His wife’s desire for a less angry husband, his bad health, his obligation to his profession, his resentment at the public’s negativity toward police dedication to justice—all are obstacles he is seemingly burdened with forever. Late in the novel he blows up at his wife and just about invites her to make a break with him. Gallagher incisively says, “His self-hate [is] projected outward onto others,” even to loved ones and trusted colleagues. The momentary rejection of his wife is very similar to Eddie’s in Down There. Sisyphean burdens are shouldered by the protagonists in Black Friday, The Wounded and the Slain, The Burglar, Nightfall,The Blonde on the Street Corner, and most fiercely in Goodis’ final novel, Somebody’s Done For.