Sunday, May 20, 2012


By Cornell Woolrich

Cornell Woolrich was the undisputed master of noir. His tales were less about crime than explorations of the human heart, the twisting byways of trust, betrayal, and the deeply irrational side of fear. Black Alibi fits squarely in that tradition. The mcguffin is an escaped black panther, a dangerous “pet” belonging to an American movie star, on the loose in a South American city. The actress’s manger is honor bound to retrieve the creature. What Woolrich tells is only partly the tale of the pursuit of the panther, but a series of sketches of prospective victims, with the reader never knowing if they will pass through safe, or die under the fangs of the beast.

It’s not your usual crime novel.

Woolrich lived for part of  his youth in Mexico City. Black Alibi is infused with the poetry and rhythm of life in Latin America, the joys and sorrows heightened. No Black Alibi isn’t a crime novel, it’s a romance, a love story, a story about life in its glory and misery. It’s a fantasy, an idyll, it’s noir.

-Dave Hardy


Keith said...

It's been years since I read this one, but it was great. I understand there's a film version, set in the States IIRC, that's supposed to be quite good. At least Harlan Ellison thinks so. Woolrich is one of my favorites.

If you haven't read them, try The Night has a Thousand Eyes or Phantom Lady. In the former, the detective guarding the rich old man gets into a betting match at the roulette table with him. The prize, the old man's daughter (she goes along with it). It's one of the most intense scenes I've ever read.

In Phantom Lady, the protagonist is searching for the one woman who can clear him of murdering his wife. The problem is that all the other witnesses swear she doesn't exist.

Dave Hardy said...

Phantom Lady & The Night has a Thousand Eyes are both fantastic. I bought the Ballantine edition of Phantom Lady at Chamblin's Book Mine in Jacksonville years ago along with a pile of other Woolrich paperbacks. That was when I got hooked on Woolrich.