Friday, March 06, 2009

The Book You Have to Read:
“Daddy Cool,” by Donald Goines

(Editor’s note: This is the 45th installment of our Friday blog series highlighting great but forgotten books. Today’s selection comes from Gary Phillips, the Los Angeles-based creator of private eye Ivan Monk, the editor of Politics Noir: Dark Tales from the Corridors of Power, and author of the forthcoming Freedom’s Fight, a World War II novel. His short story “House of Tears” [restored to the way he intended it] is featured in Black Noir: Mystery, Crime and Suspense by African-American Writers, edited by Otto Penzler. Phillips is an irregular Rap Sheet contributor.)

In Frankie Y. Bailey’s new book, African American Mystery Writers: A Historical and Thematic Study, she notes that Donald Goines, along with Robert “Iceberg Slim” Beck, “appealed to readers because they wrote with the credibility of men who had been ‘in the life.’” Goines, like Chester Himes, had begun writing in prison, being inspired by Iceberg Slim’s inflated autobiography, Pimp: The Story of My Life. Like Beck, Goines would publish all of his books as paperback originals with the white-owned, but black audience-oriented, Holloway House, headquartered in Los Angeles, California.

The House still exists in the form of the girlie mag Players and keeps Goines in print--or at least in back order. However, it’s recently been reported that Kensington Publishing acquired some of the House’s catalogue, including, one assumes, the long-gone Goines--the Godfather of the Display Racks, as Eddie B. Allen Jr. referred to him in his book, Low Road: The Life and Legacy of Donald Goines.

In all, Goines, an Air Force MP (who enlisted underage, using a fake birth certificate), rooty-poot pimp, petty thief, heroin addict, truck driver and hustler, among his other pursuits, wrote 16 paperback originals for Holloway House, starting with Dopefiend, published in late 1971. His last two books would be released posthumously in 1975: Kenyatta’s Last Hit and, also attributed to him, Inner City Hoodlum. As Allen relates in his book, Inner City Hoodlum’s parentage was not Goines’ solely, but also that of a writer named Carleton Hollander. Allen states Hollander had to heavily edit and finish the uncompleted manuscript that Goines had left behind. You see, Mr. Goines exited this world in as violent a fashion as any depicted in his books. He and Shirley Sailor, who lived together and had two children, were shot to death in their apartment at 232 Cortland in Detroit, Michigan, their bodies found on the morning of October 22, 1974. Fortunately, the murders hadn’t harmed the children. Like some Ross Macdonald mystery embedded in the past but reverberating to the present day, the killers remain unidentified.

During his years of output, sometimes grinding out one of his rugged tales in a month, writing in the morning then going out in the afternoons to score some dope, Goines was no master wordsmith with a phrase nor particularly deft at characterization. At best, his style could be considered unadorned and his approach straight ahead if not downright pedestrian in sections of his work. Yet he remains a kind of Jim Thompson of the ’hood, given the lives and cold-eyed protagonists he put to the page. This at a time when Soul Train was the soundtrack and blaxploitation films were made on the cheap, yet bringing in the ducats.

Daddy Cool, published in the year of his death, exemplifies the cruel élan of Goines. The plot concerns a middle-aged hit man named Larry Jackson, nicknamed Daddy Cool, who specializes in making his kills with his handmade knives. He has a sweet ranch house in a quiet section of Detroit where the white flight is taking place as middle-class blacks move in. His wife, Shirley, doesn’t ask too many questions. There are two knucklehead stepsons, Jimmy and Buddy, and the daughter of he and the wife, Janet.

But Janet, you see, is fine as they say, but wild. Too damn wild and still underage.

The opening passages in this book have Daddy Cool returning from an out-of-town hit on a greedy accountant who was looking to make off with money belonging to the numbers barons. So Daddy Cool’s turning his “short,” car that is, into his circular driveway. But wouldn’t you know it, at this time of the morning--no birds chirping, lawns all dewy--Janet’s sitting in a gleaming Cadillac in front of him with her jive pimp boyfriend, Ronald. They linger with a kiss and Daddy Cool has to blow his horn to interrupt them, though they knew he was there. The supposed boyfriend leaves, and father and daughter have a talk--Donald Goines style.
“Hear this littl’ b---h,” he growled, and he didn’t recognize his own voice. “If you ever try speakin’ to me in that tone of voice again I’ll kick your ass so hard, you won’t be able to sit sideways in that goddamn Caddy, you understand?” Before she could shake her head one way or the other his hand moved in a blur. Twice he slapped her viciously across the face.
Not fancy, but Goines gets the impact across. For his antihero only has one redeeming quality, which is to save his daughter, and it’s bent at that. If, he reasons later in the book, after catching his now turned-out daughter out on the stroll, she wants to sell herself of her own volition, then so be it. But Daddy Cool can’t stand it that she’s under the thrall of Ronald, a cocksucker who deserves no respect. Janet too, though, has odd ideas about love, seesawing between thinking she can somehow get Ronald out of the life, yet fully aware she can handle a blade, given that her dad taught her how as a child. Interestingly, Goines, who was slight and a light-skinned black man, gave the tall Daddy Cool a similar complexion, and Ronald, who he describes as more his build, and shorter than Janet, is dark.

This novel is flawed as a work of craft, but it has a kind of unblinking nihilism that certifies Goines as the progenitor of the array of “street lit” books being published today. Daddy Cool was reprinted several years ago by Old School Books as the only Goines novel in trade paperback so far. There also exists a Daddy Cool graphic novel (its cover shown here on the right), published in 1984 by Holloway House, adapted by the prolific writer Don Glut and wonderfully rendered by the late Alfredo Alcala.

In death, Donald Goines is still read by the incarcerated and the literati. His books Crime Partners and Never Die Alone were made into films, the latter with rapper DMX in the tile role of King David. Goines has achieved a yakuza-like honored status of being among the lowest. All tributes denied him in life.

Rest easy, baby.

* * *

Gary Phillips is proud to say that not only does he own the yellowing Holloway House paperback version of Daddy Cool, but the graphic novel version as well.

READ MORE:Finding the Black in Noir,” by Carolyn Kellogg (Los Angeles Times); “Donald Goines and the Birth of Black Pulp Fiction,” by Kinohi Nishikawa (CrimeReads).

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