By Francis M. Nevins
Anthony Boucher (1911-68) died at the unbearably early age of 56 but accomplished more in his short life than most of us could do if we lived to be 200. He wrote seven highly regarded detective novels and dozens of detective, fantasy and science-fiction short stories. He collaborated on more than 200 scripts for the Sherlock Holmes, Ellery Queen and Gregory Hood radio series. He edited countless mystery and s-f anthologies and, during most of the Fifties, co-edited The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. He translated a number of classic crime tales from French and Spanish (including the first story of Jorge Luis Borges to appear in English). He was one of the founders of Mystery Writers of America and of the San Francisco chapter of the Baker Street Irregulars. He hosted a program on mystery fiction for San Francisco public radio. A complete list of his activities could easily fill a closely printed page. The annual mystery conventions known as Bouchercons were begun shortly after his death and continue to attract thousands of writers and readers of the genre each year.
During much of Boucher's hyperactive life he also conducted a weekly mystery review column, first for the San Francisco Chronicle (1942-47) and later for the New York Times (1951-68). Among the thousands of titles he reviewed were four novels by David Goodis. Here is what he thought about them.
October 20, 1946
David Goodis, DARK PASSAGE (Messner, $2). Parry was an unimportant guy who got framed for murder and eventually escaped from San Quentin. You'll have to take it from there yourself; I'm not going to try to synopsize the details of his escape, his adventures and his ultimate vindication.
I'll only say that here is the most notable writing talent to emerge in the field in a long time. Mr. Goodis has an originality of naturalism, a precise feeling for petty lives, a creatively compelling vividness of detail that you could perhaps match if you could combine top [Cornell] Woolrich with early [Clifford] Odets. This is the goods.
November 21, 1954
David Goodis' BLACK FRIDAY tells of an amateur murderer who finds sanctuary with criminal professionals and is forced to meet their callous standards or perish. As deliberately fruitless a story as an Existentialist novel, it's written with striking economy, skill and conviction.
September 1. 1957
David Goodis' FIRE IN THE FLESH is the odd story of a drunken firebug, uncertain whether or not he set the blaze that killed the brother of a gang boss. Under the tension of pursuit by both the gang and the police, his long-unused brain is stimulated to solve the killing and even to achieve a sort of self-psychoanalysis. A little too pat, the book has a good deal of harsh power, strong narrative movement and flashes of a curious black humor.
April 23, 1961
David Goodis' NIGHT SQUAD tells of a conniving ex-cop who tries to act as an agent at once for a criminal big-shot and for a special squad of badge-wearing sadists who are gunning for him. This results in some tense situations, but the writing is more ponderous than Goodis' best, and the moral thinking confusingly muzzy.
This essay appeared in the GoodisCON program book.
Francis M. Nevins is a professor at St. Louis University School of Law, where he has taught since 1971 and continues to teach since his recent retirement. In addition to his writings on legal subjects he is the author of six mystery novels: PUBLISH AND PERISH (1975), CORRUPT AND ENSNARE (1978), THE 120-HOUR CLOCK (1986), THE NINETY MILLION DOLLAR MOUSE (1987), INTO THE SAME RIVER TWICE (1996), and BENEFICIARIES' REQUIEM (2000). He has also written about forty short stories which have appeared in ELLERY QUEEN, ALFRED HITCHCOCK and other national magazines and many of which have been reprinted in leading mystery anthologies. Some of his shorter fiction has been collected in NIGHT OF SILKEN SNOW AND OTHER STORIES (2001) and LEAP DAY AND OTHER STORIES (2003). He has edited more than 15 mystery anthologies and collections and has written several nonfiction books on the genre. Two of these nonfiction titles---ROYAL BLOODLINE: ELLERY QUEEN, AUTHOR AND DETECTIVE (1974) and CORNELL WOOLRICH: FIRST YOU DREAM, THEN YOU DIE (1988)---have won him Edgar awards from Mystery Writers of America. He has written articles, book reviews and similar short pieces on mystery fiction for newspapers, magazines and reference works. During 1994 he served as Awards Chair for Mystery Writers of America..