by David Goodis
Publisher: Gold Medal Fawcett
Summary: David Goodis’ Night Squad tells the story of Corey Bradford – a corrupt Philadelphia cop in a corrupt world. Bradford is a likable anti-hero who must use all of his wits just to survive. Night Squad is a good noir novel, but a few changes could have improved it.
Review: The documentary To a Pulp has revived interest in the late “noir” author David Goodis (1917-1967). Goodis is an author I’d always intended read, but – somehow – I’d never managed to get around to it. Finally, I read his novel Night Squad and found it to be a mixed success.
In Night Squad, Goodis “baits the hook” with an intriguing story. Thirty-four year old Corey Bradford has been thrown off the Philadephia Police force for accepting bribes. As the novel starts, Corey is sliding into alcoholism in a dead-end Philly neighborhood known as The Swamp – the same neighborhood in which Corey grew up and later patrolled before losing his badge.
The Swamp’s crime boss, Walter Grogan, hires Bradford to find out who is trying to muscle in on his rackets. At the same time, the Philly PD offers Corey his badge back, but only if he agrees to join the infamous Night Squad – a group of misfit cops who do the Department’s “dirty work.” In a nice twist, Bradford decides to keep both jobs, playing one side against the other.
Goodis tells much of the story through Bradford’s thoughts. In other words, Goodis “tells” the reader what Bradford is thinking, rather than “showing” it through dialogue and action. While this approach violates the advice of many writing teachers, Goodis makes it work fairly well.
Surprisingly, Night Squad is very blunt in regards to violence and sex, which comes as a surprise given that it was published in 1961. The novel contains some fine prose; Goodis is skilled at setting the scene and creating the bleak moods that made his novels such a hit with French intellectuals. Consider –
“Some mist was clouding the window. He wiped it away with his hand and peered out at the rain. It had subsided and there was a slow, quiet drizzle that sounded like fingers tapping softly on drums. Ain’t nothing jazzy in that sound, he thought. That sound is on the heartache side. Goes along with the color of the sky up there, that dark gray making everything dark gray down here.”
While Goodis was a talent, he did not completely break away from the restrictions and the cliches of crime fiction. For instance, Goodis cheapens the plot by giving Corey two long-dead parents: an “honest cop” father and an alcoholic mother. Corey’s family history helps neatly tie the plot together in an unbelievable (and unnecessary) thread.
Moreover, several aspects of the novel simply didn’t work for me. For instance, on several occasions Bradford’s badge “speaks” to him, debating with Corey about how he should behave. These passages are poorly conceived and slow the book’s momentum. Another quibble is a plot twist that relies on a 25-year old woman’s need for reading glasses.
This was my first experience with Goodis, so I cannot judge his body of work. Night Squad is a “pretty good” novel written by a talented writer. I will seek out other Goodis novels.
For those interested in Night Squad, it is available for free download onto your kindle (or other device) at munseys.com.