My favourite crime novels No.16

Shoot the Piano Player – David Goodis’ novel is a dark affair. It’s the story of Eddie Lynn, a man who at the beginning of the novel barely exists at all. He plays piano in a rundown dive in Philadelphia for a pittance of a salary, wears raggedy clothes and pretty much avoids contact with his fellow humans (other than to make mild small-talk and smile at people absentmindedly). His little bubble is well and truly punctured when his loser of a brother turns up at the bar whilst being chased by crooks. Eddie interrupts his habit of watching passively and intervenes on his brother’s behalf, so that he can escape, and in the process is forced to wake up from his self-imposed torpor. The two crooks chasing his brother suddenly take an interest in Eddie, and a waitress from the bar (who Eddie befriends because of his intervention on his brother’s behalf) also becomes involved. From here the plot involves kidnapping (one of the funniest kidnap sequences ever written, I might add), Eddie’s backstory, which pays off beautifully with one of the finest bar fights in crime fiction, and a heavy dose of tragedy.

Shoot the Piano Player (Down There, to use its original title), is probably Goodis’ finest work. By turns, exciting, tragic, heartbreaking, exhilarating, it showcases the strength of Goodis’ best writing without any of the weakness’ (Eddie isn’t pathetic, which is sometimes the case with Goodis’ protagonists, just a man down on his luck; the slender angel/fat whore dynamic that Goodis normally uses for his female characters is seriously toned down here; and the story is as tight as a snare drum). This novel is both a brilliant introduction to Goodis and, if you aren’t a noir reader normally, a brilliant introduction to the genre.


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