Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Bride Wore Black - Cornell Woolrich

First published 1940; cover shown is the 1984 Ballantine Books (USA) paperback edition. Cover artist unknown. 204p.

Cornell Woolrich (1903 - 1968) lived a tormented life, terrified and haunted by the thought of dying. During an approximately 35 year period, until his death, Woolrich created noir crime fiction - dark, moody tales of vengeance, unrequited love, and murder. The Bride Wore Black was the beginning of his Black Series.

Set over a two and a half year period, the novel describes the deaths of four men. In all of these men's lives a beautiful woman appears days before the murders - only to disappear as mysteriously once the crime is committed. First a sultry blonde, next a ravishing redhead, nothing seems to stand in this murderous vixen's way.

The detective assigned to the first unsolved case, Lew Wagner, realises the same woman is involved after the second murder is committed months later. He also realises that she is not a homicidal maniac: given the chance to easily kill potential witnesses, she chooses not to. And she even ensures that a young school teacher wrongly suspected of one of the murders is set free.

As the novel reaches its climax, the reason behind the woman's crusade is revealed. And this is the book's weak point. You would have to be a homicidal maniac to decide to do what she did. The final, bitter twist - delivered by a well-disguised Wagner - is full of holes. But the story itself is very good, with characters that quickly become real, and the glamorous setting of Chicago in the 40's.

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