Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Phantom Lady, by Cornell Woolrich

The night was young, and so was he.

What would it be like to be accused of a murder you didn't commit and nobody believes you're innocent? That's the situation Scott Henderson finds himself in in Cornell Woorich's Phantom Lady.

Henderson has dinner reservations at a nice restaurant and theatre tickets for two, but nobody to share them with. He decides to go into a bar for a drink and ask the first woman he sees to spend the evening with him.  He finds a willing partner and they spend the evening together without sharing names or anything about themselves.  When Henderson returns to his apartment he finds the police there; his wife has been murdered.  Henderson takes the police to the bar, the restaurant, and the theatre, but everybody remembers Henderson being alone. Is there a vast conspiracy afoot? Or did Henderson murder his wife and imagine his companion?

Woolrich was a master at capturing dread, loneliness, and the most intense desperation.  He adds to this in Phantom Lady with a ticking clock: each chapter is titled "The XXXth Day Before the Execution". You know Henderson will be convicted of the murder and it's up to the only three people who believe him to prove his innocence. This makes the book a tight, propulsive read.  As with the other Woolrich I've read, the writing is good and the stories are gripping, but there are a few flaws.  If you can overlook them, his books are worth searching out.

Woolrich writes noir straight up, no chaser.

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