David Goodis is not a household name on the order of Dashiell
Hammett or James M. Cain, and it’s hard to understand why.
Goodis was as equally well known in mid-20th century pulp fiction
as his contemporaries, not only for his violent, colorful prose but
also for his willingness to take on subject matter not ordinarily
dealt with even in the pulps. THE WOUNDED AND THE SLAIN, first
published in 1955 and resurrected by Hard Case Crime, is an
excellent example of Goodis’s work and his unabashed look at
topics considered sensitive for the times.
THE WOUNDED AND THE SLAIN concerns James and Cora Bevan, two
good people who find their marriage failing despite their best
efforts. Cora is psychologically damaged --- the reader learns the
how and why of it late in the tale --- and James, patient to a
fault, drowns his frustrations in alcohol. They travel to Kingston,
Jamaica, in an attempt to make things right, but the trip only
serves to accentuate their difficulties. James goes on an alcoholic
bender, while Cora becomes attracted to another man who makes his
intentions toward her quite clear. James continues his drinking
binge in the Kingston slums, soon finding himself in a terrible
difficulty that results in tragedy for a number of people.
The situation only gets worse when James tries to make things right
and becomes the victim of a vicious blackmailer. It is,
interestingly enough, Cora who must make the right decisions, ones
that ultimately result in her indirectly confronting her own
demons. She attempts to come to the aid of her husband, but that
may be too little and too late.
Goodis’s work would be good, even worthy, on these elements
alone, but it is made all the more worthwhile by his subtle
explorations of racial and economic issues that remain pertinent to
this day. To some extent, THE WOUNDED AND THE SLAIN could
be Goodis’s own story, insofar as the author had his own
demons that he faced throughout his life with varying degrees of
success. The reprinting of this dark, enigmatic novel by Hard Case
hopefully will revive interest in this fine writer, who in recent
decades has become undeservedly obscure.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 24, 2011