Today’s review contains more than one first. This is my first experience of reading a reprint from the American Mystery Classics series, and it is also my first encounter with Woolrich’s work, though I have known about him for a while. Eddie Muller writes the introduction for this reprint and he sums the novel up well:
‘Woolrich was the most noir writer in the mystery genre, as The Bride Wore Black amply proves. It contains all the requisite elements: the obsessive protagonist on a murderous quest, the latticework of dreadful coincidence, the relentless (and sometimes strangely exhilarating) spiral into madness, the denouement that twists the knife an extra turn.’
He also brings up the book’s unusual dedication to a typewriter and “CHULA”. However, I felt Muller’s tone became a bit inappropriate at his juncture:
‘His relentless use of Remington Portable No. NC69411, the incessant pounding and cajoling of its keys, was the most intimate relationship in the poor, lonely bastard’s life.’
I’m not sure if it is cultural thing, or whether it is just a me-specific issue, but I didn’t think it seemed right to describe a writer, in an introduction, as a ‘lonely bastard.’ I found it a bit off putting.
Anyways moving on to The Bride Wore Black. In a nutshell this mystery is centred on a serial killer, a woman hell-bent on revenge. Her motivations for her course of action become clearer the more deaths she accomplishes. Why are her targets only men? Is it men in general she has something against, or is there something particular about these specific men? At times her actions implicate others, though she also seems to ensure no one is wrongfully arrested for any of her crimes. Instead she creates quite the headache for the police adding ever more cases to their unsolved pile. Will they ever be able to track her down?
I have to be honest I did not find the first 20 or so pages of this book particularly engaging. My attention definitely wandered, and it all seemed rather bleak. I even put off continuing the book for a few days, as I feared it would be rather dull and bit of a drudge.
So I was very happily surprised to find that the rest of the book did not meet this negative expectation and instead the plot suddenly became much more interesting.
Initially this is the sort of narrative in which you can’t really be sure where it is going, as just when a particular thread emerges, the text abruptly changes tack and moves on to something else. However, as these changes continue a pattern begins to formulate.
We follow the mystery woman’s murderous career as she moves from victim to victim, disappearing like a phantom once the deed has been achieved. I found that as she goes on each death becomes tenser and more sinister. The first death occurs in the blink of an eye: ‘It must have been a spark in his darkening mind for a moment that went out as he went out.’ Whereas the subsequent killings are more involving, the third is probably the most poignant. The killer is at her sneakiness in this case, in the way she inveigles her way into the life of the victim, using his own son as part of her scheme. It is also in the later deaths that we see the story teasing the reader, throwing up possible means of death, only to show they are not going to be used, only to then reveal the method the murderer has decided to adopt.
The seasoned mystery reader is likely to figure out the criminal’s backstory before the end, but I think the ending as a whole is far more twisty and unexpected. It certainly took me by surprise, with all the elements pleasingly dovetailing together.
If you like your mysteries to have mighty strong stings in their tail, then is definitely the book to place at the top of your to-be-bought list.
Source: Review Copy (American Mystery Classics via Netgalley)
P. S. Let me know if there are any other titles by Woolrich that I should be looking out for.