Wednesday, October 1, 2008

“Say Goodnight to the Bad Guy" by Duane Swierczynski

Everybody has an inner geek. Whether its love of films, comics, carpentry, art, whatever, most people really dig into their passion. (I hate to say hobby because it degrades the passion; it’s like when I cringe at being called a history buff when I’m a trained historian with a Master’s degree.) These junkies learn the history of their chosen passion and can recite trivia ad nauseum to anyone out there, especially to fellow members of said geekdom. It’s like telling grammar jokes to a bunch of English teachers. When the punch line is “No, it’s a gerund!” only English teachers and tech writers laugh.

Count among this group the narrator of Duane Swierczynski’s short story “Say Goodnight to the Bad Guy.” The unnamed narrator loves crime fiction the way some people like “Star Wars.” He knows all, even the most trivial of stuff. He buys old issues of mystery magazines on eBay. And when the story opens, he’s found a long-lost author, Cole Ford.

In 1954, Ford set the crime fiction world on fire with the publication of one 1,200-word story. The narrator tells us what kind of impact the story had.
“It was the Clash, circa 1954.
It was the H-bomb in your den.
Nobody who read it fresh off the newsstand was ever the same again.”
Famous real-life mystery authors are quoted, included David Goodis, the Philadelphia native that Swierczynski loves. Goodis, it seems, read Ford’s story and had to move back in with his parents to get his life right again.”

It’s this kind of humor and wink of an eye Swierczynski gives us on this entertaining story. Swierczynski wrote this story for anyone but, like those grammar jokes for the English teacher crowd, there’s a lot more to this story that crime fiction geeks will get.

The title of the story refers to a lost manuscript written by Ford and it’s the narrator’s quest to find the man and the manuscript. He finds Ford through Ford’s agent, Luther McCall. Both men are now in their 80s. Unfortunately for the narrator, he gets more than he bargained for. Fortunately for us—geeks all who would take a similar quest searching out our own hold grail—the story ends with a lovely twist. I liked, also, how Swierczynski drops in references to Philly, bringing the city to the forefront as well as his love of crime fiction.

“Say Goodnight to the Bad Guy” is a story published in Damn Near Dead: An Anthology of Geezer Noir (Busted Flush Press). The anthology title alone is worth a few chuckles as is Swierczynski’s introduction relating how he approached these authors, some of whom he’s admired for years. One of those writers is the recently-deceased James Crumley who provides a guest introduction. Crumley thanks Swierczynski “…for talking me into this…” Wouldn’t you have liked to have been a fly on the wall during that conversation. I can’t help but wonder if Swierczynski wrote his story after meeting and contacting these other writers. Something tells me it’s a good possibility.


Chris said...

Thanks for defending the inner geek! I'm about to drive to work and am now looking forward even more to the Spyro Gyra in my CD changer.

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