In Richard Dooling’s introduction to Cornell Woolrich’s Rendezvous in Black, he mentions that Woolrich is one of the lesser known pulp mystery writers but is deserving of more notoriety. His titles themselves evoke ‘noir’, such as Rendezvous in Black, The Bride Wore Black, The Night Has a Thousand Eyes, and Waltz Into Darkness. Many of his books have been made into movies. And his writing won’t disappoint.
(I usually like to show the cover of the edition I read, but this is so much more evocative of pulp fiction.)
Johnny Marr and his girlfriend Dorothy had a date every night at 8 PM in front of the drug store. Without fail. She was the love of his life. They were destined for marriage. But one night she doesn’t show up. There’s a crowd standing by the curb and a body lying in the street. It was a freak accident that killed Dorothy and Johnny vows to get revenge. He wants the perpetrators to know how it feels to lose the most important person in their lives.
I will be the first to admit that you have to suspend belief in order to enjoy the book. How Marr tracks down the perpetrators, how he exacts revenge, requires a leap of faith by the reader. But, the suspense level is high and one is apt to take that leap unquestioningly.
As I said, the writing won’t disappoint. In describing Detective Cameron, the poor soul who latched onto the fact that murder was taking place, Woolrich writes, “He was too thin, and his face wore a chronically haggard look…His cheekbones stood out and his cheeks stood in…There must have been times when his clothing had been at least passable, if nothing more than that. But he must have been entirely alone when that happened, because no one else could ever remember having seen him at such a time.”
The chapter titles tell you exactly what the action will be. Parting. The First Rendezvous. The Reunion. Simple but all telling. The fifth rendezvous is reminiscent of Wait Until Dark with Audrey Hepburn. You can figure out why.
While Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler may be masters as describing the seamy sides of Los Angeles and San Francisco, Woolrich is a master at describing the seamy side of people, the anger, the raw emotion, of people.
After reading one Woolrich story, most notably Rear Window (originally called It Had to be Murder), you will become a devout fan.