Saturday, June 9, 2018

Rear Window: Review

This Rear Window collection of stories (2001) by Cornell Woolrich contains stories from 1969 and earlier. In addition to the title story, there are an twelve stories, primarily from his best years when his stories appeared in Detective Fiction Weekly, Argosy, and Black Mask (among others). Overall, a fine collection of short stories with a mix that ranges from straight mystery to dramatic psychological suspense.
★★★★


"Rear Window": Originally titled "It Had to Be Murder" and the story the HItchcock movie was based on. If you've seen the movie, then you've got the basic plot. But there are definite differences in the original story. Jeffries has no girlfriend doing his running about for him. He has no nosy female housekeeper--he has a houseman--and he's the one who operates as Jeffries's legs. [I have to say that while the story is enjoyable--I much prefer the film. The characters are fleshed out and it's more interesting seeing everything from Jeffries's point of view out the window.]

"I Won't Take a Minute" is one of Woolrich's variations on the-lady-vanishes story. Our narrator is Kenny, engaged the to the beautiful Stephanie. She's just given her boss her notice and one of her tasks during her final wee is to drop off a package after work when they're supposed to be heading out for a night on the town. Kenny doesn't like it much (he thinks they take advantage of her good nature), but she convinces him that it "won't take a minute" for her to pop into the apartment building and hand over the package. Then they'll be on their way. But the minute turns into several and then some more and Kenny realizes that something has gone very wrong. 

"Speak to Me of Death": Ann Bridges, niece of the wealthy John T. Bridges, comes police headquarters seeking help for a rather bizarre situation. Her uncle has become convinced, after consulting a man who supposedly has second sight, that he will die on a certain day through Death at the jaws of a lion. Now the Bridges live in the middle of civilization--nowhere near lions of any sort, but her uncle is convinced and the closer the day comes, the more nerve-wracked he grows. She wants the detectives to keep her uncle alive until after midnight on the chosen day--then, when her uncle sees that he has survived, life can return to normal. But sometimes you just can't escape fate no matter what strange shape it might take.

"The Dancing Detective": Apparently this is one of Woolrich's more frequently printed stories because I have read it in a few collections. In this, Ginger, a dance hall girl, loses her best friend when a killer makes a habit of killing girls from the dancing halls. Nick, the policeman on the case, takes a fancy to Ginger and when the killer sets his sights on Ginger, she has to hope that Nick will get the messages and clues she's left behind--before she becomes another "Poor Butterfly" in the killer's collection.

"The Light in the Window": A soldier, having just returned highly disturbed from the war, decides to surprise his girl by showing up at her apartment unannounced. He arrives when he thinks she should have just gotten home from work, but the apartment is dark. Thinking she's just running a bit late, he waits outside for her. Then, suddenly, the her light comes on and he meets an old friend coming out of the building who boasts suggestively of the "time he's had". The soldier is convinced his girl has been unfaithful and he goes to her apartment on the alert for proof of her guilt. And if she's guilty...she's going to have to be punished.

"The Corpse Next Door": An irritable man slugs the man in the next when he discovers him stealing his milk from outside the apartment door. Horrified that he's killed the man, he drags him through the open door (the neighbor's) and stashes him in the Murphy bed. But as time goes by and no one has discovered the corpse, he becomes a bit unhinged--especially when a new couple moves in next door.

"You'll Never See Me Again": Another variation on the-lady-vanishes. This time newlyweds Ed & Teresa ("Smiles") Bliss have one of those silly arguments that turn into a "I'm going home to mother!" moments. "Smiles" walks out on him, promising that he'll never see her again. When he goes, shamefaced and hat in hand, to apologize to her, he finds that she's not there and she's apparently disappeared off the face of the earth. It looks like she might have been right....

"The Screaming Laugh": A man who was known as a very disgruntled fellow who never cracked a smile, let alone laughed at a joke has died--apparently from laughing too hard. The local doctor can find nothing to suggest anything but natural causes, but he reports the unexpected death to the local sheriff, as required by law. But when Deputy Traynor arrives at the scene, he just can't accept that Eleazar Hunt died after reading the book of really bad jokes dropped by the side of his chair.

"Dead on Her Feet": A policeman is sent to breakup a dance marathon because the sponsors are suspected of being flim-flam artists. When he gets there, he discovers that one of the contestants is, quite literally, dead on her feet. It looks like the only one who could have done it is her partner....but the cop has other ideas.

"Waltz": (a very short story, not to be confused with Waltz Into Darkness): A young society girl is all set to elope with her young man. They plan to take off in the middle of the dance hosted by her parents. Bu Wes gets just a trifle agitated when she starts babbling to him about the detective who has crashed the party because there's a crook running loose in the neighborhood. Maybe a thief--maybe a murderer. But why should they worry? No one will interfere with them--after all they're not murderers. 

"The Book That Squealed": [adapted for radio on Suspense in 1945 as "Library Book" with Myrna Loy!--found HERE on youtube.] A rather uptight librarian finds herself in the middle of a mysterious adventure when a best-seller (please hear that with all of Prudence's disapproval) is returned to the library with pages missing. Though she disapproves of trashy best-sellers, she disapproves of book vandalism even more. Her determination to hunt down the culprit leads her into much bigger things.

"Death Escapes the Eye": An editor for a magazine falls for the slush-pile author she and her co-editor chose to fill a hole in their latest issue. But she has competition from the man's on-again, off-again first wife. Even when she disappears.

"For the Rest of Her Life": A very dark story about a woman who falls for and marries a sadistic wife-beater. She finds what looks to be an escape with a young, loving man--but what she expects for the rest of her life may not be what she gets.

[Finished 5/16/18]

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Some of the stories in this collection have been adapted for film or television--most notably the title story "Rear Window" as well as "The Dancing Detective," "I Won't Take a Minute" (as "Finger of Doom"), and "For the Rest of Her Life."

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