Nostalgia City Mysteries

By Mark S. Bacon

Tag Archives: e-books

Does this thriller sound too familiar? Woolrich review and cautionary tale

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Night Has a Thousand Eyes
By George Hopley
Farrar & Rinehart, hardcover   1945
Kindle book $9.99  368 pages      

Warning: this book review contains a spoiler. No, I’m not going to give away the plot of this Cornell Woolrich thriller (originally published under a pen name), I’m going to alert you to a spoiler of sorts, written by the author himself. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

City homicide detective Tom Shawn is on his way home from work late one evening, walking along a river. As he approaches a bridge, he finds money, loose bills drifting in the breeze like leaves. As he turns across the bridge he finds a diamond ring, then a purse. This shadowy bridge setting and the scenes immediately following exemplify noir as well as anything written during the period and pull you into a twisted tale.

Det. Shawn follows the trail of money, jewelry and other purse contents until he sees high-heel shoes and finally a woman standing on the bridge parapet. With difficulty, he talks her out of jumping and she steps down and out of the shadows. He sees her clearly for the first time. “The arc light gave him a drenching flash of surprise, as it tore the darkness apart and she stepped through the rent into full view.”

He’s surprised to find that she’s a beautiful young woman, barely 20. She tells Shawn she’s afraid of the stars twinkling above, so they make their way to a deserted restaurant where Shawn persuades her to tell her story.Night has a Thousand Eyes

She begins rambling on about “darkness and fear and pain and doom and death.” As she begins to settle down and explain, she soon outlines the theme of the book saying, “…God permits us to look backward, but God has forbidden us to look forward. And if we do, we do so at our own risk.” Her lengthy tale involves her father, a wealthy investor, who has become involved with someone who seems to be able to predict the future.

The predictions bring a promise of riches and fears of death. The story of Jean Reid and her father draw Shawn into a race against time and against capricious, malevolent forces that ultimately mobilize the city detective squad.

Woolrich’s noir style and attention to details highlight the novel. An early chapter focusing on terror is as close to Poe as anything I’ve read by Woolrich and one of the later “police procedure” chapters demonstrates–at length–the finer points of tailing a suspect.

As I read, I was dragged firmly into the heroine’s malaise until it sounded familiar. Too familiar. I had not read the book before, yet after rounding the half-way point in the novel, I knew exactly what was going to happen. Was a book about clairvoyance imparting some of its mystical powers? Was Woolrich a plagiarist?

I found the answer–although I had a notion what the problem was–in the book’s introduction by Woolrich biographer, Francis M. Nevins. He explained the 1945 novel was based on a novella Woolrich had published eight years earlier.   And I read the novella, “Speak to Me of Death,” in a Woolrich collection some time before. Apparently this is not the only short story or novella that Woolrich turned into a novel.

So, my advice for readers who are just getting into Woolrich is to be cautious. Try several novels before you pick up a story collection. If you have already read Woolrich short stories, there’s still hope. Most Woolrich books available today come with introductions by Nevins or others. Scan the intro to see if the novel might be based on a short story you’ve read.

In a cursory online search, I could not find a list of his novels that come from his shorter works. In fact, some of the references in the first search engine list I encountered were to this blog.

 

This is part of an occasional series on the work of noir thriller writer Cornell Woolrich (1903-1968).

 

And don’t be fooled by the different names Woolrich used. As mentioned, this book was originally published under a pen name, George Hopley, Woolrich’s two middle names. He also published under the name William Irish.

Meanwhile, back at the Thousand Eyes, the race against time that Shawn and other detectives embark on is typical of Woolrich thrillers and as Nevins says in the introduction, imminent death and the ticking of the clock are as central to this book as any Woolrich novel. (The description is also true of the story, “Speak to Me of Death.” ) Incidentally, the novel title comes from two of the characters’ aversion to stars, i.e. a thousand eyes.

Perhaps due to the novel’s genesis, it has more than one climax. In fact, it has more ups and downs than many mysteries, making it something of a noir rollercoaster. You will cling tightly to the coaster’s safety bar waiting to see if there’s a final descent and crash.

——————-

Video note: Like most, if not all Woolrich novels, this was made into a movie.   Edward G. Robinson, Joan Lund and William Demarest star in the John Farrow-directed film. It retains the title of the novel. Although the first scene makes it look as if the film will follow the book closely, it doesn’t. At all. The movie is based on a relatively creative concept, but one that’s not in the book. Woolrich, rather than George Hopley, receives screen credit for the novel. Apparently he was not involved in the script.  Remarkably, the one-hour, 20-minute film is available on YouTube. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RH3bzUF862k

E-Book update

Best-seller lists expand to encompass electronic titles; romance popular

One thinks big name authors live and die by the best-seller list rankings.  Those of us toiling in the lower levels of the literary landscape admire the sales figures and scour the lists looking for our next book to read.  E-book publishing, once the techy stepchild of the publishing business, is the fastest growing market segment and the subject of dedicated best-seller lists.  E-books also contribute significantly to sales in a new list for self-published books.

Publisher’s Weekly (PW) the trade journal for the book publishing/distributing business, has started a new list, recording the best-selling books self-published through the Smashwords platform.   The top-25 list is dominated by romance titles with three authors appearing three times each.  Each of those authors, Katie Ashely, Abbi Glines, and Shayne Parkinson, publish in e-book and paperback formats, as do many if not all in the top 25.

A list of the most popular e-books in 2012 was also published by PW and it’s comprehensive.  The list includes hundreds of e-books in graduated categories from 15 million in sales to 50,000.  Makes interesting reading.  There’s no indication as to which publishers PW queried, but it probably omitted very small houses and self publishers.   The first comment the online PW article generated was by someone suggesting they publish a list of the top selling self-published e-books.  A good suggestion, though the list might be quite similar to the above-mentioned self-publishing list.  With Amazon’s Create Space program, it’s simple for an author to create a paper book and e-book simultaneously; often the e-book is priced lower.

Other e-book best-seller lists are, if not plentiful, easily accessible.  In the latest Digital Book World list, for the week ending Aug. 18, an e-book from a small publisher beat out the big New York names.   As noted in the listing, the top selling e-book, The Boy in the Suitcase,  was priced significantly below the e-books from larger publishers.  Price has an effect on e-book sales, as discussed in this blog before, and the best-seller lists are good places for book buyers, authors and others to keep up with market trends.

The venerable New York Times also has e-book best seller lists for fiction and nonfiction and Amazon lists the top-selling Kindle books this year to date.

Also worth reading is Jeremy Greenfield’s article on top selling e-books from Forbes last month.  Hachette, one of the Big Five US publishers,  has recorded 153 e-book best-sellers this year, Greenfield reports.

Hyperlinks–

Publishers Weekly: Self-published best sellers

Publishers Weekly: Best-selling e-books of 2012

Digital Book World: Best-selling e-books

NYT: Best-selling e-book nonfiction

NYT: Best-selling e-book fiction

Best-selling Kindle e-books in 2013

Forbes: Who is getting the big piece of the e-book pie

News update:

Future of e-books muddled

Everyone’s jockeying for the best position in the complex, brave new world of e-book marketing.  And it appears that future book buying details, including the prices readers pay for books and the amount authors get paid, will be determined by corporate lawyers and judges.

Last month a federal judge ruled that Apple conspired with five of the leading publishers to raise the going price of e-books.

Reuters reported that U.S. District Judge Denise Cote in Manhattan found “compelling evidence” that Apple violated federal antitrust law by playing a “central role” in a conspiracy with the publishers to eliminate retail price competition and raise e-book prices.

Apple was accused of trying to erode Amazon’s dominant position in e-book sales causing some e-book prices to rise by $3 to $5 each.

The U.S. Justice Department hailed the verdict as a victory for book buyers.

At issue are “agency model agreements” where publishers set the price of books, rather than retailers.

In the “wholesale” model, publishers offer books to booksellers at roughly half the price the publishers set as the recommended retail price of a book.  Then the retailer is free to sell the book at any price, even below the wholesale price paid for the book.

Graham Spencer, writing in Macstories.net, explains that Amazon decided to sell some e-books below wholesale to gain a larger percentage of the market and to speed the sales of Kindles.  When Apple launched its online bookstore, Spencer says, it contracted with publishers using the “agency” model that authorizes publishers to set retail prices.

(This is an oversimplification of a complex process and Spencer has a detailed explanation of the e-book sales models in his article. )

The recent court decision overturned Apple’s agreements as a conspiracy with publishers to drive up prices.  The five publishers involved in the suit, HarperCollins, Hachette, Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster, and MacMillan settled prior to the Apple verdict and were told by the court they would have to wait two years before entering into agency model agreements.

Presently the court is considering what form of penalty to impose on Apple.  Suggestions include forcing Apple’s bookstore to provide links to competitors.   A final resolution is in the works and Apple promises an appeal.

“Used” e-book sales

Although fraught with possibilities for the future of books and e-books, the Apple case is just a bump in the road compared with the likelihood that a market for “used” e-books will materialize.

According to Publishers Weekly magazine, a German district court recently ruled that digital books can’t be resold by purchasers.  The authoritative trade journal said the court ruled that books are not subject to “exhaustion of the rights of the author.”  Apparently the ruling means that e-books can only be resold with the permission of the author.

Earlier this year a U.S. federal judge ruled that ReDigi, a Massachusetts company, infringed on the rights of Capitol Records by facilitating the resale of digital music.  Regardless, according to Boston Magazine, Redigi is reportedly moving forward with plans to sell previously owned e-books in the U.S.

Reports Boston Magazine, “Legal issues aside, many analysts feel these markets are almost inevitable.”

Hyperlinks:

Reuters: Ruling says Apple violated antitrust law

Graham Spencer in Macstories.net  

Publisher’s Weekly

Boston Magazine  

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