Nostalgia City Mysteries

By Mark S. Bacon

Tag Archives: roman noir

Victim plots creepy, bizarre revenge in Woolrich’s ‘Rendevous in Black’

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The word “black” appears in the title of five Cornell Woolrich novels–considered his best–written in the 1940s. Darkness describes his literary themes and his life.   He was married only briefly, had no children and lived in New York hotels with his mother until she died. He was preoccupied with death, disliked much of his own work–which included two dozen novels and hundreds of short stories–and died virtually alone. Yet his haunted, bleak life led him to create the discouragement, distrust and panic that colored his suspense-filled, austere novels.   Rendezvous in Black is such a story.

Johnny Marr always met his girlfriend Dorothy in the same place, outside the drugstore down by the town square. “He had special eyes for her, just as she had for him.” Their wedding was set for June. But on May 31, in a bizarre, unlikely accident, Dorothy was killed as she waited for Johnny by the square. Johnny’s life exploded. When the shock finally wore off–or did it ever?–it took him only a short time to figure out how she had been killed, and a little more time until he had a list of five men, one or all of whom were responsible.

What follows is the episodic tale of Marr’s crazed, devious retribution. He doesn’t kill the men on his list; his revenge is more appropriate, more cunning. And always on time. The men who populate Johnny’s list are only loosely connected and they live vastly different lives as we discover as the deranged lover tracks them down.

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

Johnny’s indirect form of revenge makes it difficult for the police to anticipate his moves and collar him. As writer Richard Dooling says in the introduction to the 2004 Modern Library edition of the novel, “The reader finds no shelter in a comfortable central character or crime-solving Hollywood hero….” The less-than brilliant detective on the case, MacClain Cameron, says Dooling, is “a mere accessory to a story governed by the mighty forces of murder, retribution and fate.”

As the novel lurches forward, each specimen of revenge becomes almost a separate story, connected by the presence of Johnny Marr lurking somewhere off-camera and detective Cameron usually several, clumsy steps behind.Rendezvous in black 2   We know that each long chapter will end with something horrible.

Woolrich’s language is sometimes criticized–by a few of the small number of reviewers who even know of his existence–as more clunky than that of Chandler or Cain–but his fast pace and taut suspense keeps your eyes racing forward. His writing skills, however, often flower and he can deepen an already gloomy atmosphere.

All the way up those deliberately curving stairs, the shadow pursued him along the wall panels and he fled from it. But as the stairs curved, it relentlessly overtook him, then swept around before him, to confront him accusingly as he reached their top.

Johnny’s methods for revenge obviously take much planning, and they become more ingenious as the book progresses. This is not a question of whodunit, but of how is he going to do it this time, and will he be caught.   The conclusion is sufficiently suspenseful. Until the last page, you’ll be guessing whether Woolrich will conclude with a Hollywood ending. When you finish, you’ll have to decide if the ending was “Hollywood,” or a bit darker.

Rendezvous in Black
Cornell Woolrich
Modern Library Paperback Edition, 2004 Original printing, 1948
211 pages     $14

Noir notes

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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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