David Goodis established himself as the successor to Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler with the publication of his first book Retreat from Oblivion in 1939. The year before he had graduated from Temple University, so Retreat boded well for a young author. Unfortunately, his career began at a time that many consider the twilight of the hardboiled era in fiction. Additionally, the world was on the cusp of yet another Great War.
The Library of America, who in 1997 issued the books Crime Novels: American Noir has gathered, in two volumes, 11 classic works of the 1930s, '40s, and 50s — among them David Goodis’s moody and intensely lyrical masterpiece Down There. With David Goodis: Five Noir Novels of the 1940s and 50s (Library of America), the LOA have now teamed with editor Robert Polito to gather five more of Goodis’ seminal works of the genre that became known as Noir. Goodis, along with James M. Cain and Jim Thompson, are today considered the ‘godfathers’ of noir and for good reason. They wrote of ‘the mean streets’ but the people who populated their novels were doomed. They had very few redeeming qualities and the lines were often blurred between right and wrong, good and evil, and hero and villain.
This volume opens with Dark Passage, considered by some as Goodis's masterpiece, but regardless, it was his first big break through in 1946, and later on, it made history in a copyright lawsuit. More on that in a minute. The story centers on Vince Parry, who is in prison, convicted of killing his wife. Parry was a decent sort of guy — quiet, never bothered anybody, not too ambitious and worked as a clerk in an investment house bringing home $35 a week. He’d only been married for sixteen months when his wife was found by a neighbor, in her house with her head bashed in.
But, before the wife died she supposedly whispered to the neighbor that Parry had hit her with a heavy glass ashtray. The police found the wife's blood on the ashtray and Parrys fingerprints on it. To make matters worse, as they are wont to do in noir novels, it came out at trial that Parry hadn’t been getting along with his wife and was seeing other women, the fact that the wife had been seeing other men didn’t make much of a difference to the jury. With no alibi, Parry is sentenced to San Quentin.