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.