Moderately successful attempt to reconstruct the short life of a drug user, pusher, pimp, and felon who, upon his release from prison, penned 16 books (Whoreson, Never Die Alone, etc.) that fictionalized his criminal street life and sold millions of copies, mostly to urban African-Americans.
In his debut work, freelance journalist Allen has a daunting task. Little is known about Goines before his death at 37. In fact, when the novelist and the woman he was living with were gunned down execution-style in their Highland Park apartment in 1974, the Michigan police found virtually no evidence, and the case remains unsolved. In one of the most interesting sections here, Allen conducts his own informal investigation, interviewing, for example, one of the original homicide detectives, but can end only where the police did, with speculations and regrets. He begins with a preface revealing how he became acquainted with Goines’s work, opens the main narrative with the novelist’s grisly death, then leaps back to his childhood, education (meager), involvement in juvenile crime, enlistment in the Air Force at age 15 (he lied about his age), return to civilian (and criminal) life, incarcerations, and, finally, his discovery in prison that he had stories to tell—a lot of them. With his sister’s editorial help, buttressed by the generous efforts of his editors at Holloway House, Goines cranked out a swift series of streetwise crime novels that earned him many readers and some local celebrity. Allen’s prose is uneven. Sometimes he adopts the argot of his subject (“a pimp had to have it known at all times that he was in charge of his shit”); elsewhere the language is conventional and even clichéd. Excessively detailed summaries of such historical events as the Watts riots supply context for Goines’s life, but little else.
Important initial research into a writer—and a genre—in need of further serious attention. (8 pp. b&w photos, not seen)