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Archive for the ‘Waltz Into Darkness’ Category

Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler may be the architects and set the unbeaten standards of the tough but caring detective, it is clearly Cornell Woolrich who has set the standard for the psychological thriller. He was a mainstay of the Mystery/Thriller pulp magazines of the 1930s and 1940s.

According to Wikipedia (which I hate to quote), “His biographer, Francis Nevins Jr. [a respected pulp writer in his own right], rated Woolrich the fourth best crime writer of his day, behind Dashiell Hammett, Erle Stanley Gardner and Raymond Chandler. A check of film titles reveals that more film noir screenplays were adapted from works by Woolrich than any other crime novelist, and many of his stories were adapted during the 1940s for Suspense and other dramatic radio programs.” And while I’d consider him a ‘crime writer’, his writing was in a class by itself…Hammett and Chandler on one branch of a Mystery Tree and Woolrich on another branch.

The Cornell Woolrich Omnibus contains Rear Window (which lacks the romantic aspect of the movie version) and other short stories as well as two novels, I Married a Dead Man and Waltz into Darkness and it is in these novels where his talent shines.

He is a master at allowing his protagonists to get what they desire but, the question is, at what cost? Woolrich is an artist who paints a scene, then another and then another, all the while moving the story forward, inch by sometimes excruciating inch. In Waltz into Darkness, particularly, I didn’t know whether to root for the main characters, Lou and Julie/Bonny Durant, love them or hate them or feel sorry for them. My feelings changed by the page and at one point I was tempted to read the last page to see how the story ended. But I”m glad I didn’t, because it would have ruined the suspense.

The two novels take place in two different times, I Married a Dead Man in the 1940s when the story was written, and Waltz into Darkness in 1880s New Orleans and he does each time period justice. In the latter, readers feel like they are in New Orleans, he sets the stage so well.

I’ve read various Cornell Woolrich stories and novels (Rendezvous in Black) and I haven’t cracked the surface of his works. There are definitely going to be more in my future.

If you are into reading the best of a genre, then Cornell Woolrich is a must read for every mystery fan. His works are well written and suspenseful.

P.S. A biography of Woolrich might be in order as well, as his life would have made a great Woolrich story.

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