I had never heard of Cornell Woolrich before I randomly picked up this book at Half Price Books. It looked interesting, it was short stories, and it did not disappoint. Says the bio on the cover, “Cornell Woolrich wrote his first novel in 1926, and throughout the next four decades his fiction riveted the reading public with unparalleled mystery, suspense, and horror. America’s most popular pulps – Dime Detective, Black Mask, and Detective Fiction Weekly – published hundreds of his stories.” Movies such as Hitchcock’s Rear Window were based on his work.
This collection, published in 2004, includes 14 of his short stories. The genre might be considered “noir.” I could certainly see the sort of “Sin City” vibe as I read these stories. They kept my attention to the point that I didn’t want to leave my breaks at work so I could finish the story I was reading.
One of my favorites, “The Case of the Killer-Diller,” involved a young lady in a jazz band that played their own rendition of Ravel’s “Bolero,” which drove a person mad to the point that he killed someone every time he heard it. But he made the killing appear to be a suicide. No one seriously began questioning it until the third time.
Another good one, “The Heavy Sugar,” was about some stolen jewelry that had been hidden in a sugar bowl in a local diner. A regular patron observes the strange behavior of a guy moving from table to table, ordering another cup of coffee, and then spooning sugar into it.
“The Fatal Footlights” told the tale of a woman killed by simply denying a necessity from her. You see, she danced in a burlesque show, completely covered in gold paint. Someone took her cleanser so she couldn’t take it off between shows, which, ultimately, caused her death by prolonged exposure to the paint.
Some of the stories involve detectives, some don’t. All of them involve some kind of crime. All of them are simply written, yet well-written, in order to capture the imagination and keep it held captive until the end.
I would love to find some more of Woolrich’s work.