Forgotten Books: Dark Passage by David Goodis
If David Goodis hadn't written this book it would have fallen to Cornell Woolrich to do the job. The set-up (and several parts of the book) are pure Woolrich.
Vincent Parry escapes San Quentin where he's serving life for a murder he didn't commit. He goes back to his old haunts in San Francisco intent on finding the real killer. But he's talked into a plastic surgery that certainly borders on science fiction. Zip zap, wait a few days and you're walking around with a completely new face. I supplement my income with The Ed Gorman Medical Drive-Through; you get a burger and fries with every procedure. But not even MY docs could do what this doc did.
Anyway despite my doubts about the medicine practiced here the book is gripping from page one to the finale. And Goodis is as good at menace and paranoia as Woolrich. His San Francisco bears a real resemblance to the London of The Ripper. There's an extended scene in the fog with a cop that starts to choke you. Will the cop figure out who he is? There are chase scenes in the fog that take on the aspect of horror fiction. And there is the ever-shifting game of whodunit.
There's the beautiful blonde stranger (Lauren Bacall in the film version) who helps him for mysterious reasons of her own; the old friend we begin to have doubts about; and the shrew (Agnes Moorehead in the movie) who is almost as much of a bitch as his dead wife--though nobody could have out-bitched her.
A very dark (in all respects) and very rich novel (parts of it read more like a mainstream book than a genre one) with an ending I'm sure Hollywood changed (I haven't seen it for some time). A page-turner and a masterful story of menace.