Woolrich: novels or short stories?

Last week, a reader, intrigued by my recent articles, asked if I could recommend a starting point for reading Cornell Woolrich. Although I’m just beginning to explore this little-known author myself, I have a suggestion or two.

The Woolrich works I’ve read thus far are best considered for the journey, rather than the destination. Each scene, each page drags you deeper into the protagonist’s miasma as he or she races against the clock or death or both. The idea that every scene in a detective story should be as important and as involving as the conclusion–when the mystery is solved–was a priority for Raymond Chandler. And in his novels, each chapter and each dark, gritty scene created more trouble for Philip Marlowe. Finding out whodunit was just the final step in a perilous journey. The same can be said for Woolrich.

Therefore, I recommend the 1941 novel, The Black Curtain, as an introduction to Woolrich. In it, Frank Townsend gets a bump on the head and suddenly three years of his life disappears–or reappears. He searches for his home and discovers his apartment is vacant and that his wife has moved out.   He finally finds her and she tells him she hasn’t seen him for three years.

So starts this different version of an amnesia story. After he’s been back with his wife a short time, Townsend discovers someone is following him. The more dangerous the pursuit becomes, the more Townsend realizes he must figure out what happened during the missing three years.

His struggle to discover his past leads him through a threatening world of suspicious looks and dead ends. The fast-paced story includes a case of murder and a decrepit, isolated mansion.The Dancing Detective

Like most roman noir novels, there isn’t exactly a Hollywood ending. The plot twists at the end leave some unanswered questions, but each step along the quick trip through Townsend’s cloudy world is worth the effort and then some.

To be picky, Woolrich uses terminology that refers to a semi-automatic pistol after he has already identified a gun as a revolver. The difference between the two types of handguns is significant in several ways and they look nothing alike.   But confusing revolvers for semi-autos is so common in mysteries that I didn’t even notice the first time through.

The other way to get an introduction to Woolrich is through one or more of his numerous short stories. The best one I’ve read is “The Dancing Detective” written under the pen name, William Irish. The protagonist’s first person voice is unique and so strong she captures you from the first paragraph. “Dancing Detective” appears in several mystery/suspense anthologies and in Woolrich collections. Of course for short stories it’s hard to beat “Rear Window,” Woolrich’s most famous creation. Even if you’ve seen the movie, the story is still compelling.

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Filed under Cornell Woolrich, Reviews of mystery/suspense books

Flash fiction, episode two

I’m pleased to publish the second installment of the flash fiction story “Stone Motor,” about a different kind of rebel band. Each of these pieces is 100 words. If you missed the first story, it’s reproduced below, followed by the second episode.

 Stone Motor

by Jim McCormick

Stone Motor played a gig in the music room of a moss shrouded, antebellum mansion near the Mississippi. Its audience included the usual bland tourists and a blue-haired guide named Maude, who disclaimed the South’s loss in the War between the States. Lately, she’d been trying to poison visitors from up north with complementary mint juleps. Melvin Carnahan of Boston accepted one and he expired as he drove off the plantation. The band’s lead singer was arrested; seems he had a likeness of Jeff Davis tattooed over his heart. Soon after, Maude seized the mike and the rest was history.

civil war stuff

Shortly after joining the band, lead singer and murderess Maude Dossage changed her name; she wanted a stand-alone nom de guerre. Slightly bent in her 80th year, red hair exchanged for blue, she told the Stone Motor boys her name was now Mudd. Sympathy with the Confederate cause persisted; she hatched a plot to do in Brooklyn born drummer, Grant Getty. Mint julep concoction again? No! Too good for Getty. He got it one cool evening when Mudd laced his doobie with strychnine; he never even made it to the bandstand. Thereafter, the smug Miss Mudd doubled on percussion.

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Filed under flash fiction, Jim McCormick, short mystery stories

Noir notes

Reprints from Centipede

Centipede Press of Lakewood, Colo. offers beautiful reprints of classic novels including many noir titles. Cornell Woolrich, Paul Cain and other authors are featured.   The Centipede website says,

“Crime fiction – in particular, the hard-boiled roman noir – has a special place in American literature. We offer a small but growing selection of classic crime novels from some of the most respected names in the genre, including David Goodis, Fredric Brown and Jim Thompson. All of our crime titles feature new introductions by prominent writers in the genre. And nearly every book has bonus features, such as original paperback cover art, one or two bonus short stories or essays, and other goodies.”

http://www.centipedepress.com/books.html

 

Good definition

Writing in the introduction to Night Has 1000 Eyes by Cornell Woolrich, Francis M. Nevins defines noir this way:

“…the kind of bleak, disillusioned study in the poetry of terror that flourished in American mystery fiction during the 1930s and 1940s and in American crime movies during the forties and fifties. The hallmarks of the noir style are fear, guilt and loneliness, breakdown and despair, sexual obsession and social corruption, a sense that the world is controlled by malignant forces preying on us, a rejection of happy endings and a preference for resolutions heavy with doom, but always redeemed by a breathtakingly vivid poetry of word (if the work was a novel or story) or image (if it was a movie).”

 

Cornell Woolrich video

Here’s a two and a half minute video tribute to Cornell Woolrich. The short program includes photos, covers of his books and posters from movies made from his novels. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5fgQCNGtB-M

 

Dark beginning

This book site, Biblioklept, has an article on neo noir novels and a video clip of the first scene of the Orson Welles-directed film, “Touch of Evil.” This is a noir beginning to match any film in the genre. http://biblioklept.org/2010/04/13/in-brief-new-and-not-so-new-noir-novels/

 

Who are the new noir writers?

Flavorwire lists what it says are “10 essential neo-noir authors.” http://flavorwire.com/388913/10-essential-neo-noir-authors/

 

 

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Filed under book publishers, Cornell Woolrich, film noir, Movie review, mystery writers, Noir