Roughly twenty years ago, the British publisher Orion released a series of reprints under the banner of Crime Masterworks which had something of a transformative effect on the books Younger Me started to look out for. Included in that selection was the short story collection Nightwebs (1971) by Cornell Woolrich.Continue reading
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…
Past Jim has a lot to answer for — this haircut, for one, or that fact that I cannot forget the embarrassment of 11:48am on 4th June 1997 — but my current frustration with him is how easily and summarily he dismissed the writing of Cornell Woolrich after reading the Nightwebs (1971) collection as part of the Orion Crime Masterworks series. Had Past Jim possessed a little more discernment (or, dare I say it, maturity), I could have been loving Woolrich’s work for the last two decades instead of coming to it so late. Yes, I got here eventually, via some short stories, some novellas, and a couple of American Mystery Classics reissues, but what is life without something to lament?
It’s fair to say that, in the course of writing this blog over the last six years, I have become known as something of a plot fiend. Atmosphere is lovely, memorable characters are preferable, social commentary perfectly acceptable, but what drew me to classic-era detective fiction was the possibilities of plot and plenty of it. On that front, Waltz into Darkness (1947), Cornell Woolrich’s 1880s-set epic of catfishing, revenge, and much more besides should leave me cold — heavy on emotion, laden with dread, fond of repetition to hammer home obvious points…everythng that should send me running. And yet, damn, I wish this probably 120,000-word book was twice as long.
Don’t be put off by the publication date — we’re deep in the Golden Age here, with the twelve stories in this collection originally published in 1934 and 1935. And, oh my, what a collection it is.Continue reading