Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Other Friday the 13th...

I'm a child of the 13th, and I couldn't tell you whether the bad luck on various birthdays has had anything of whether or not my party fell on a Friday or not.

The interesting thing about superstition is whether or not it's worth crossing it, and that endless loop of what-if's it creates concerning various outcomes if you had waited or just done something on that day.  But what if what you were thinking of doing was bad anyway, and no matter what day it was, someone was likely to get hurt?  Today's review is about a book that puts on the thumbscrews pondering just that sort of thing: Black Friday by David Goodis.

David Goodis is one of the lesser known of the crime fiction greats.  In fact, after his death in the late 60's, Goodis' work went out of print in the U.S., and survived mainly in reprints by the lovers of all things noir, the French (Anyone ever see Moon in the Gutter (aka. La lune dans le caniveau, 1983) starring Depardieu, the French cult classic based on Goodis?).  Like so many of his crime lit brethren, Goodis' works returned to his native soil in the late 80's, thanks to publisher Black Lizard.  In a similar vein to Jim Thompson's ties with the Oklahoma and Texas underworld, Goodis too benefited from time spent in seedy nightclubs and bars in his favorite location to fictionalize, Philadelphia. Sadly, Goodis is perhaps best known today for his famous lawsuit against the 60's TV staple, The Fugitive, for allegedly being lifted from his novel Dark Passage, which unfortunately became more a case about whether his book was in the public domain than whether the ideas were stolen.

Black Friday is a fun pressure cooker of a book.  A fugitive named Hart hops off the train in Philly to avoid capture when he encounters a man dying from a gunshot wound. The man unloads a wad of stolen money on Hart which leads to his being captured by the team of professional thieves that did the shooting.  The plot covers the week before their next heist, which unfortunately falls on Friday the 13th. The team can't let Hart go, even though he can't go to the cops anyway, but they also can't decide whether they can trust him despite his story of being a pro-criminal himself.  The suspense it ratcheted up bit by bit as squabbles break out and romance develops in this little house full of unsavory characters as the clock winds down to go time.

Now, this book may not feature enough crime for fans of modern crime fiction.  It functions much better as a study in personality mechanics, where a new cog is dropped into a smoothly running machine, and with each turn all the paths deviate farther from their standard courses.  So while it delivers on suspense, it's not exactly thrilling per se, and the ending, while appropriate, may not be the climatic stand off you were coming to expect (see: The reaction to the conclusion of No Country for Old Men (2007).)  What's undeniable however is the strength of Goodis' ability to turn dialogue into a  fencing match of words and wits, and an atmosphere that makes you appreciate the shelter of a lion's den to stay out of the cold, hostile, white world outside.