"In the sticky darkness of a July midnight the cat waited there for more than a half hour. As it walked away, it lefts its paw prints in the dried blood of a girl who had died here in the alley some seven months ago."
Will Kerrigan is devoid of purpose following the death of his sister. He meanders through life working at the docks and obsessing over his lost family despite the fact he still has family members alive and well. An alleyway taunts him into action, the place of his sisters last breath draws his in and sets out a series of events which lead Will to discover the truth behind Catherine's demise.
An integral piece of this fragmented puzzle is a murder/suicide mystery compounded by the visual of dried blood in an alley and ghost of a memory. In Will’s sister Catherine, Goodis alludes to a ‘lady of the night’ profession without providing full disclosure. While tainting the deceased it also casts doubt on the pedestal Will so fondly sits Catherine atop. Her death constantly clouds his thoughts and impacts his judgment, even going so far as to point the finger at his own brother. This semi PI persona is made all the more attractive by hazy facts in light of Catherine’s death and Will’s questionable state of mind.
The sense of desired menace and unaccountable, unruly inhabitants of Vernon Street were delivered without conviction. Sure it’s a seedy place to live yet I think Goodis missed the target in conveying that true sense of dread after dark. Nick and Mooney are a couple of characters introduced early on who serve more as comic amusement than a testament to the terrors of Vernon. Personally I would've liked to have seen more of Ruttman, the infamous muscle of a man whose name is legend amongst the workers at the dock.
The main female lead in Loretta’s part felt misplaced. Along with her brother Newton slumming it on Vernon Street for kicks did little more than add another body to count against Catherine’s death. Loretta’s contribution didn’t account to much apart from adding an element of sass without substance while romanticising Will. For Newton, a frequent drinker, the bar (Dugan's Den) he’s most often cited provided the loud and boozy hovel needed in this kind of book. The bones of a deep and distinctly dark noir are there, yet the meat was nowhere to be found - shame really as Goodis is a master of noir, this just wasn't his best effort in my opinion.