CriminOlly thinks: Blisteringly entertaining tale of crime on the streets of 1970s America 4/5
Donald Goines was an African American author of crime fiction who published a number of novels under both his own name and the pseudonym Al C Clark in the 1970s. I’d not heard of him until very recently, but the covers of his books proudly claim that he is the best selling black writer in the US. Given that his books are around 50 years old that’s quite a feat. Inner City Hoodlum was his last book, he and his partner were found murdered in their apartment in 1974. The completed manuscript for the novel was found in his belongings and it was published posthumously.
The most obvious thing to compare the book to is the blaxsploitation movies that were popular at the same time. It has the same gritty energy, translating the lives of impoverished urban African Americans into melodramatic entertainment. The book follows a young man (Johnny Washington) who gets involved in petty crime and starts working for a local gangster. Simultaneously (and unbeknownst to Johnny) his sister Is lured into a life of prostitution.
The plot is fairly predictable but moves with the power of a freight train. It’s fantastically gripping and while the characters are familiar, Goines presents them and their actions in an impartial way which makes for compelling reading. The people and events are believable because we know that stories like this played out with characters like these time and again in America’s cities in the 70s. That fact must have made the stories powerful to contemporary black readers, who saw their generally unrecognised existence represented (however melodramatically) in the pages of Goines’s books.
That ring of authenticity is what makes Inner City Hoodlum as good as it is. It’s rough around the edges in places, but also a great example of why popular fiction can be so important, both to its fans at the time, and to those who come later.
Title: Inner City Hoodlum | Author: Donald Goines | Publisher: Holloway House | Pages: 256 | Publication date: 1st August 1992 (first published 1975) | ISBN: 9780870679995 | Source: Purchased
Johnny Washington, a black teenager in Los Angeles, knows the freight yard like the back of his hand. He and his pals, Josh and Buddy, hit them often, stealing for a fence. They have to. They’re the soul support of their families. But when Josh is killed by a security guard (who gets his brains scattered by Buddy with nunchaku sticks), they are forced to look for other work. They find it with the underworld kings in Elliot Davis. But when Davis recruits Johnny’s sister for his stable and later OD’s her, Johnny and Buddy come on with a vengeance.
Content Warning: Racism, rape, drug addiction
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