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Black Static

New Horror Fiction BLACK STATIC 82/83 OUT NOW

The Late, Late Review: Black Friday & Selected Stories

2nd Feb, 2024

Author: Peter Tennant

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Not just a late review, but a late, late review. The other day while searching for old reviews to archive over on my personal blog, I stumbled across four draft reviews that, as far as I can tell, never got worked up into the 'real' thing. They were written in the hiatus between the last issue of The Third Alternative and the first issue of Black Static, so if reviews were published it would have been on the old T3A website, which is long consigned to the recycle bin of history, but if so then I didn't make any record and can't find any trace using the Wayback machine.

In the circumstances I thought it would be useful (and a gentle way to kick off this year's Case Notes campaign) to patch together some reviews from notes I made at the time, though obviously these will be superficial compared to the 'real' thing as I've long since passed on the books in question and, though good, my memory is not up to recalling plot details etc., from something read nearly twenty years ago. And now of course somebody will no doubt pop up to tell me that not only did I publish reviews of these books back in the day, but they kept copies for some obscure reason and now I have offered a completely different view of the same books (self-contradiction is a danger of the reviewing life).

Anyway, let's kick off with...

Black Friday & Selected Stories by David Goodis was published in paperback by Serpent's Tail back in 2006 and there are still used copies available via Amazon if this review piques your interest. Goodis (1917 - 1967) was a pulp crime writer who reached his peak during the 40s and 50s, and claimed his novel Dark Passage was the inspiration for TV series The Fugitive (Goodis undertook litigation against the TV company for copyright infringement, the case dragging on past his death). This retrospective of Goodis' work opens with the short novel "Black Friday". Fleeing a charge of euthanasia in his native New Orleans, Hart winds up in Philadelphia, where he falls in with a gang of crooks led by the charismatic Charley. To save his skin Hart must convince Charley that he too is a career criminal, and as the day of a big job draws near tension inside the house where the gang are holed up mounts, with Hart between a rock and a hard place when two of the women take an interest in him. The plot here is not particularly convincing, but what Goodis does superbly well is the interplay between the characters, portraying the resentments and emotional undercurrents that can arise when men are forced to spend time in each other's company. Each of the characters is beautifully drawn, with description and dialogue appropriate to their differing natures, and the bitter end twist pitches the story into true noir territory. While hardly a classic this is an entertaining and convincingly written crime thriller.

Twelve short stories make up the remainder of this book. "The Dead Laugh Last" is the story of a gang lord undone by his love for a treacherous woman, while in "Come to My Dying!" a doctor is set up to provide the alibi for a killer, the kind of contrived but fun story that Chandler would have slated for its plot inconsistencies in "The Art of Murder". Even more contrived (but still fun) is "The Case of the Laughing Queen", the first story featuring detective Ricco Maguire, in which a criminal mastermind intent on revenge baffles the police with a city wide chess game with real people as his victims. Set in the desert, "Caravan to Tarim" involves Bedouin raiders and double crossing merchants, with a couple of down on their luck mercenaries as the main characters, and is an agreeable way to pass the time if nothing more than that. In "It's a Wise Cadaver" a private detective helps a criminal discover who has been cheating him and why, while in "The Time of Your Kill" a killer is plagued by memories of his honest cop father.

"Never Too Old to Burn" is a twist in the tail story, with an old man assuming his dead friend's identity to swindle an insurance company, only to find that he has made a very bad mistake. "Man Without a Tongue" is another Ricco Maguire story, and this time around he foils the machinations of a madman exacting terrible revenge on those he holds responsible for the loss of his tongue, and once again it is rather a silly plot, but the story is well told and with some Grand Guignol moments along the way. A white man in the Far East gets both the gemstone and the girl in "The Blue Sweetheart", an entertaining tale of double crosses and ruthless gangsters. "Professional Man" is perhaps the grimmest of what's on offer, the story of a contract assassin who is forced to prove his loyalty by murdering the woman he loves, the narrative and characterisation never less than convincing and the pay off so black that terms like noir become understatement. In "Black Pudding" a man seeking to escape his enemies is pushed into a corner and learns the joys of revenge, while "The Plunge" sees an honest police officer undone by his attraction to a criminal's girlfriend, the story offering us a bittersweet examination of human nature under duress. It's a fitting end to a solid collection showcasing the work of one of the Crime genre's lesser known luminaries.





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