Cornell Woolrich: The Bride Wore Black


Woolrich was one of the classic noir era’s masters of psychological suspense; few of his contemporaries were capable of making nightmare scenarios come alive within a few short pages the way that Cornell Woolrich could.  Many of his stories have a downright evil twist at the end, and as far as such endings go, The Bride Wore Black certainly shows Woolrich at the top of his game.  (Be warned, however: Woolrich doesn’t always play fair.  His final twists may come out of left field not only for his characters but also for the reader; and this, too, is certainly true for this particular novel.  While certain clues are provided throughout the story hinting at yet another narrative level, they in themselves are not sufficient to allow a deduction what precisely that level might coonsist of.)

There is very little that can be said about the plot without spoiling at least significant parts of it, so let’s just stick with what the title implies — this is a twist (and a fairly major one) on the “black widow” trope, in that over the course of 2 1/2 years, several men are murdered … though not by a woman whom they themselves have married.  It’s a thrilling tale that I greatly enjoyed, even if not all of the background details provided over the course of the book and in the final reveal do, IMHO, fully resolve the things that had nagged at me while I was reading the book.

(Note: If you don’t know the book and are seriously planning to read it, DO NOT read the below paragraphs, which contain significant spoilers.)

 

In the Moran chapter particularly, “the woman”‘s background research — notably, into Miss Baker’s habits and into Cookie’s kindergarten routine (the “gold star” awards system for the children’s drawings, etc.) would seem to have had to be much more extensive than a brief absence from her job (as she owns to during the final reveal) would have enabled her to carry out, and I also think this is the one section where the book most clearly shows its age in terms of child psychology. — Moreover and still in that same section, the murder method seems inconsistent with “the woman”‘s otherwise extremely careful planning in that it seems opportunistic, as she certainly couldn’t expect to come across that conveniently suffocating closet (and we neither have any indication that she had ever actually seen the inside of Moran’s house before, nor that she had initially been planning on a different murder method, e.g., for using that fruit paring knife, and changed her mind only at the very last moment, baiting the trap with a game of hide and seek).

Similarly, given the back story it seems hardly credible to me that Corey should not have been aware of her (and able to recognize her) long before she even showed up at Bliss’s engagement party: This is the woman who ruined his business racket and made his former partner abscond with the proceeds … and yet, to Corey she’s supposed to have been “that unimportant little white doll-like figure” next to her husband even on their wedding day?!

And, finally, I find it hard to believe that Wanger should not have focused on the cross sections of the victims’ lives much earlier than we are told he did.  Surely if you are convinced there is a connection between several killings, taking a look at the victims’ lives and seeing where they intersect is one of the very first things you do … especially if you have a hard time convincing your superior officer because all else you can come up with is the fairly esoterical notion that the killer might — just might — be the same woman?

(Spoiler paragraphs end.)

 

So, a bit of suspension of disbelief is required on the part of the jaded modern reader who’s read one or two mysteries too many.  But the quality of the writing, the clever build-up of suspense, and the wicked twist in the final reveal more than make up for that.

And just as a side note now, take a look at that cover: Isn’t it simply fabulous?  It alone almost tells you everything you need to know about the story going in — and in the actual physical copy I own, the red and deep black almost have a lacquer glow.  So gorgeous!  Hats off to the artist whoever came up with it.

 

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