Thursday, August 12, 2010


By Cornell Woolrich

Cornell Woolrich was the Homer of bleak, urban landscapes, of heroes that the gods had forgotten, and of epic battles fought by desperate losers struggling to carve out a brief moment of love before the relentless wheels of heaven grind them underfoot. His stories were the essence of that strange thing called the roman noir.

Deadline at Dawn is one such epic. A taxi dancer meets a laborer. They have no reason to experience the least amount of sympathy or interest in one another, except they discover they were neighbors back in their small hometown back in Iowa. Now they are alone in the soulless and predatory city, dying by inches as their souls are abraded away to end up dead husks, existing but not alive.

So they plan to head back to Iowa, but the laborer stole some money, and he will be caught because no matter how cleverly he did it, he knows THEY will divine his secrets. Only it won’t be theft he is caught for, it will be murder, because other forces are at work. In true Woolrich style, these innocents are caught up in someone else's crime, not by accident, but because coincidence is a mask for cosmic cruelty that makes sport of humanity. They have until dawn to find the real murderer and escape the malignant forces that stalk them.  

Woolrich’s obsessive attention to detail is matched by his characters’ certain knowledge that every single clue is meaningful and can be used to reconstruct actions and psychologies. Woolrich works his stories like a crazed “CSI: Deadend Town”. It’s a vision of the world that ranges from pitch-black to blinding light. 

Originally published in 1944 under Woolrich’s penname William Irish, Deadline at Dawn was one of many Woolrich novels reprinted by Ballantine in the ‘80s.
-Dave Hardy

No comments: