Archive for May, 2011

Strange Stories, Strange Author

Monday, May 23rd, 2011

If you’re a fan of dark, wet streets, foggy nights, lamp post shadows that outline tall, mysterious figures in Fedoras and raincoats, women who are almost always tougher than men, and worlds where fatalistic gloom hangs overhead, omnipresent and unavoidable, then you should seek out the work of Cornell Woolrich.

Perhaps lesser known than other crime writers of his day, such as Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, Woolrich ripped through the 1940′s with noir hit after noir hit. His sad detectives, vengeful wives and doomed heroes actually got turned into more movies than either of his more famous counterparts.

Cornell Woolrich lived a tormented life that equaled the sordid stories of many of his characters. A relatively promiscuous homosexual, Woolrich married the daughter of a silent film producer, never consummated the marriage and had it subsequently annulled. He spent the majority of his adult life living with his mother in the Hotel Marseille in New York. After her death he moved to another hotel where he lived and wrote and drank.

An ill-fitting shoe, that he refused to replace, eventually gave him an infection that led to an amputated leg. He remained an alcoholic recluse for the remainder of his life and died at the age of 65 weighing approximately 89 pounds.

One shouldn’t read Woolrich expecting finely tuned tales that intertwine as precisely as a Swiss watch. He was much more interested in mood, character and inescapable fate. Therefore you have to take his plots with immense reliance on coincidence and contrivance as mere scaffolding for the unlucky characters that inhabit them. Do that, and you’ll find some of the most rewarding and suspenseful page turning you can imagine.

Take for example Rendezvous In Black. The story of Johnny Marr who loses his fiancee on the eve of their wedding to a horrible (and quite unlikely) accident. Johnny is so scarred by his loss that he sets out on a quest to revenge the perpetrators of the aforementioned accident. Then, every year, on the anniversary of his love’s demise, one of the involved-perpetrators looses a wife, lover or daughter. And a good part of the fun is the way Johnny does them in while the cops are hot on his trail. Will they catch him before he gets them all. Will he get them all? And just what was the cause of Johnny’s fiancee’s weird accident? Set aside your inherent suspension of disbelief and you’re in for both a who- done-it and “how” that will have you hanging on to the very last page.

You probably won’t find Rendezvous In Black in bookstores, unless they really handle the hard-to-find. But you can run it down through Amazon or at If, like the Fiction Fortune Hunter, you’re into nostalgic noir, get on the trail of Cornell Woolrich and enjoy a great writer who’s work was turned into classic’s like Hitchcock’s Rear Window, 1984′s Cloak & Dagger, and the Antonio Banderas /Angelina Jolie flick, Original Sin. You’ll be in for some serious and highly entertaining downers.