#957: Rendezvous in Black (1948) by Cornell Woolrich

Rendezvous in Black

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One of the things that struck me as I got into the works of Freeman Wills Crofts is how, from book to book, he always finds a way to subtly alter the nature of the plot he is writing so that he never covers the exact same ground twice. This was evidently not so much of a concern for Cornell Woolrich, who could so readily imagine so many nightmarish possibilities bristling from any setup that he often had to use the same core idea more than once just to explore the principles that struck him. ‘All At Once, No Alice’ (1937) shares a sizeable chunk of DNA with the novel Phantom Lady (1942), and today’s read Rendezvous in Black (1948) harks back to Woolrich’s criminous debut, The Bride Wore Black (1940).

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#954: The Wrong Murder (1940) by Craig Rice

Wrong Murder

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At the bunfight following his marriage to Helene Brand, theatrical agent Jake Justus, reflecting that “he had had more than his fair share of homicides”, is unprepared for Mona McClane boasting that she will kill someone “in broad daylight on the public streets, with…plenty of witnesses”. Surely she can’t be serious? And so a bet is struck — powered, no doubt, by the veneer of alcohol that drives so much of Craig Rice’s wild plotting — that, if Mona commits the murder, Jake will prove her guilty of it. And then a man is shot dead on the busiest corner in Chicago during the Christmas rush, with Mona McClane spotted in the vicinity just moments before.

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#939: The New Sonia Wayward, a.k.a. The Case of Sonia Wayward (1960) by Michael Innes

New Sonia Wayward

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Previous experience with the detective fiction that John Innes Mackintosh Stewart published under the name Michael Innes has universally left me cold, but Aidan’s laudatory review of The New Sonia Wayward (1960) convinced me to give him one more go. I’m glad I did, because I disliked this book immensely and can now strike Innes off my ungrammatically-titled list of Authors To Persevere With and never look back. But, here’s the thing, my dislike here is quite startlingly personal in a way that makes it interesting to me, so I thought I’d struggle through and write it up as a lesson to my future self. You are invited to come along, but I shall not mind (or know) if you refuse.

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#930: Night at the Mocking Widow (1950) by Carter Dickson

Night at the Mocking Widow

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I love a good village poison pen mystery but, as I’ve said before, they’re difficult to write because both the village and the mystery must convince and compel. Night at the Mocking Widow (1950), the twentieth book written under John Dickson Carr’s Carter Dickson nom de plume to feature Churchillian sleuth Sir Henry ‘H.M.’ Merrivale, starts off seeming like a great example of both…but once we hit the halfway stage and the impossible appearance and vanishing of the sinister Widow presents itself, the life rather goes out of things. From that point on, it feels more like a writing exercise than a novel, and one that Carr is forcing himself to complete.

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#912: Phantom Lady (1942) by Cornell Woolrich [a.p.a. by William Irish]

Phanton Lady

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I hadn’t intended Phantom Lady (1942) to be my next Cornell Woolrich read — that was going to be a revisit of the short story collection Nightwebs (1971) which so underwhelmed me and put me off Woolrich for two decades, only for me to fall in love with the man’s work recently — but, after his own glowing review of this title, I don’t think Ben at The Green Capsule would have forgiven me if I’d gone anywhere else. And, honestly, I’m having such a blast with Woolrich’s nightmarescapes that I was probably going to enjoy whatever I read…but, woo, can I ever see why he wanted me to read this one. So, attempting to avoid nudges, winks, and spoilers that might mar your enjoyment, here goes…

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