The Blue Sweetheart, by David Goodis
I wrote the other day about Black Pudding by David Goodis. Unlike it’s culinary namesake it was bland stuff.
Black Pudding was one of two Goodis’ stories that I’d picked up for my Kindle. The other was The Blue Sweetheart. Stranded again recently without my copy of Pynchon’s V handy (my read of the moment) I decided to give it a try.
Like Black Pudding, The Blue Sweetheart is formulaic pulp crime. Both feature a wronged man, a beautiful woman who has abandoned the hero in order to run off with the bad guy, a quest for revenge and a final confrontation. There are no surprises here. The difference though is that where Black Pudding was kind of flat The Blue Sweetheart is just plain fun.
I couldn’t bear posting up the badly computer generated image that’s been used as a cover for The Blue Sweetheart on kindle, so here’s an image of the author instead:
Here’s the opening, and to paraphrase Kingsley Amis in New Maps of Hell if this doesn’t speak to you then you may as well quit this review now:
Thick sticky heat came gushing from the Indian Ocean, closed in on Ceylon, and it seemed to Clayton that he was the sole target. He sat at the bar of a joint called Kroner’s on the Colombo waterfront, and tried vainly to cool himself with gin and ice. It was Saturday night and the place was mobbed, and most of them needed baths. Clayton told himself if he didn’t get out soon, he’d suffocate. But he knew he couldn’t walk out. If he walked out, he’d be killed.
That’s more like it. That’s pulp. We have an exotic location, a man in trouble, a gin joint and the threat of imminent violence. The only thing that’s missing is a beautiful woman. She’ll be along shortly.
I’m not going to talk at length about this story. Clayton has discovered a huge and perfect blue sapphire. It’s not his first find. A while back he discovered some other gems, less valuable than the sapphire but still decent. He had hoped to use them to provide the means to settle down with his girl. A man called Hagen took the gems and took the girl and left Clayton with nothing but the memory of their laughter. Now Clayton has this new find, an unprecedented treasure, and everyone’s suddenly keen to get it off him. Even the girl’s back in the picture…
Goodis still isn’t that amazing a literary craftsman. At one point he uses that hoary old technique of having the hero look at himself in the mirror and size himself up. Does anyone ever really do that outside fiction?
Clayton lit a cigarette and stood staring at himself in the wall mirror. His hair was a black storm on his head and he had a two-day growth on his face and all he wore was a pair of shorts. But then, still focusing on the mirror, he wasn’t seeing his unkempt appearance. He was seeing something beyond the mirror. Again his brain made the tortuous journey along the paths of bitter memory.
When I talked about Black Pudding Lee Monks in the comments said that stories like these should be like neat vodka. He’s right, and here’s the thing: neat vodka is sometimes a little on the rough side. What it lacks in subtlety though it makes up for in impact.
Goodis relies here on stock techniques. There’s that self-examination in the mirror; there’s a beautiful blonde; a seedily corrupt Englishman with an air of menace; a solid friend that money can’t buy; a greedy gem merchant who’ll stop at nothing to possess the stone. None of it is original. It rattles along though. The pacing’s good and there’s a constant air of tension and danger. Yes, it’s formula, but it’s good formula. It entertains, and that’s it’s only goal.
One last quote. Here Clayton takes a gun with him and decides to spy on Hagen even though he knows Hagen has men combing the streets looking for him. He runs into a couple of Hagen’s thugs:
The thugs hadn’t seen the gun, they were concentrating on their own target. As they lunged, Clayton sidestepped and brought the gun-butt crashing against the skull of the man nearest him. The man went down like a toppled statue. The other man let out a curse and forgot Hagen’s orders not to use the knife for killing, and slashed the blade toward Clayton’s throat. Clayton stepped back, wielding the gun so that the butt hit the man’s wrist. There was the cracking sound of splintered bone. The man opened his mouth to yell, and Clayton rushed in and used the gun like a hammer on the man’s mouth. The man went to his knees, spitting blood and teeth and choking on more blood. Clayton gave him a rap on the temple that knocked him flat and put him to sleep.
It’s ugly, it’s violent, it’s arguably all a bit ludicrous. It’s pulp. Pulp is the doughnut of the literary world. You eat it not because it’s good for you and certainly not for the quality of the ingredients or the craftsmanship. You eat it because it’s an indulgence. I wouldn’t recommend to anyone that they have doughnuts all the time, but sometimes it’s nice to kick back with something sweet, sticky and probably not at all good for you.
One final note. Black Pudding and The Blue Sweetheart are both published by Wonder ebooks as part of their “Noir Master Series”. Let’s be blunt here, even for pulp they’re not masterpieces and they’re not noir either. This though was a fun story and if Wonder ebooks’ descriptions are a little hyperbolic given the actual quality of these stories, well, that’s pulp too.