Friday, 4 April 2008

The Bride Wore Black

Cornell Woolrich is one of my favourite American crime writers. I first discovered him in the 1980s, when a series of reprints of his classic ‘emotional thrillers’ appeared in the UK and I devoured them with much enthusiasm.

A few years later, I was asked to write an introduction to one of the best of them, The Bride Wore Black. For those who have not come across this pacy suspense novel (which was turned into a well-regarded film by Truffaut), it may be worth recapping my thoughts:

‘From the very first paragraph, we are left in no doubt about the determination of the woman who gives the book its paradoxical title. Not even ‘the strongest claim that human lips can utter’ makes her lose a step. It soon becomes plain that there is an air of mystery and menace about her. She tells a childhood friend that they will never meet again; she regards herself as ‘gone beyond recall’…From her window, she looks out at the city, and seems to lean towards it, ‘like something imminent, about to happen to it.’

‘…not once thereafter does Woolrich let the tension flag. His is a tale of a serial killer with a difference, a woman with a thirst for revenge. The bleak mood is reinforced by the carefully chosen epigraphs; here, even the lyrics of popular romantic songs…seem as chilling as the quotations from Guy de Maupassant.’

Woolrich was such a visual writer that it’s no surprise that his stories have often been filmed. Possibly the most famous is Rear Window, and Phantom Lady is also very good. There is a great deal more that I could say about him, but much of it has already been said by Francis M. Nevins, whose biography of this troubled soul, First You Dream and Then You Die , is definitely worth reading.

12 comments:

pattinase (abbott) said...

Can't beat Phantom Lady for a compelling plot.

Helen Conway said...

Hi Martin,
I have just stumbled on your blog and will have to go back to the beginning and catch up - you will see if you review my three blogs that my creativity has turned away from writing a little bit to something I seem able to actually complete and do well but the blogging has bcome my writing outlet( although there is still a novel in progress.... isn't there always?!!)
Say Hi to anyone and M&J who may recall me ( but maybe don't pass on too much around the legal community about the madness going on on my 'Quiltland chronicle 'blog!!)
Kind regards,
Helen Conway

Martin Edwards said...

Patti, I think that although Rear Window is probably my favourite film of a Woolrich novel, Phantom Lady is my favourite of his novels. The set-up is quite brilliant and one of these days I mean to try my hand at a comparable premise, with a completely different resolution.

Martin Edwards said...

Hi Helen. Great to hear from you. No doubt you've come across the fact that a number of 'quilting mysteries' have been written, but maybe you will have a crack at one of your own one day. And are you writing for Neil Rose at the LEJ these days?

john morris said...

If I remember rightly, Woolrich also wrote (as William Irish) a short-story version of the "Paris Exposition" chestnut (wife disappears, everyone denies all knowledge of her) that was very well done. I'm pretty sure it was in his collection, "Eyes That Watch You," but I can't recall the title. Does anyone remember?

Martin Edwards said...

Interesting, John. I don't know the Woolrich story, but I've come across other versions, perhaps most notably the film 'So Long at the Fair'.

Xavier said...

Have you read Woolrich's only locked-room mystery, "The Room With Something Wrong"?

Martin Edwards said...

No, Xavier, I don't know that one. Is it good?
And did Boileau and Narcejac ever talk about the influence Woolrich had on them?

Xavier said...

No, Xavier, I don't know that one. Is it good?

I haven't read it either, which is the reason why I asked you. :-)

And did Boileau and Narcejac ever talk about the influence Woolrich had on them?

I don't know. They often discussed his work however (a whole chapter of their essay "Le Roman Policier" is devoted to Woolrich, with an in-depth examination of his short story "The Boy Who Cried Wolf") and Narcejac pastiched him ("Blackie" in the short story collection "Usurpation d'Identité")

I think Woolrich is also discussed in Narcejac's solo essay "Une Machine A Lire" but it's been a long time since I read it, so I can't say for sure.

Martin Edwards said...

Xavier, are those essays still available anywhere? (Though my French is so rusty, it's probably not up to it!)

Xavier said...

"Le Roman Policier" is a short vademecum written for the popular "Que Sais-Je?" series; "Une Machine A Lire" on the other hand is much more theoretic. Both have been out-of-print for years but are available at Amazon or PriceMinister. My public library has "Une Machine A Lire"; do you want me to rent it so that I can give you a more detailed and freshier summary?

Martin Edwards said...

Xavier, if you were ever able to do this, I'm sure not only I but also other fans of the genre would be in your debt.