Contribution (Critical Survey of Mystery & Detective Fiction, Revised Edition)
Cornell Woolrich’s highly suspenseful plots are often recounted from the standpoint of leading characters who, however ordinary they may seem at the outset, become embroiled in strange and terrifying situations. Woolrich was particularly adept at handling questions of betrayal and suspicion, arousing doubts about characters’ backgrounds and intentions. Works dealing with amnesia or other unknowing states of mind produce genuine tension, though in other hands such themes might seem forced and overused.
Woolrich rarely made use of master detectives or other agents committed to bringing criminals to justice. His police officers attempt as best they can to grapple with apparently inexplicable occurrences; some of them are willful and corrupt. When they reach solutions, often it is with the help of individuals who themselves have been suspected of or charged with criminal acts. One of Woolrich’s strengths is the vivid depiction of stark emotional reactions; the thoughts and feelings of leading characters are communicated directly, often in sharply individual tones. Some of his plots revolve about methods of crime or detection that might seem ingenious in some instances and implausible in others. Taken as a whole, his work may appear uneven; his best tales, however, produce somber and deeply felt varieties of apprehension, plunging the reader into the grim, enigmatic struggles of his protagonists.
Bibliography (Critical Survey of Mystery & Detective Fiction, Revised Edition)
Haining, Peter. The Classic Era of American Pulp Magazines. Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2000. Looks at Woolrich’s contribution to the pulps and the relationship of pulp fiction to its more respectable literary cousins.
Horsley, Lee. The Noir Thriller. New York: Palgrave, 2001. Scholarly, theoretically informed study of the thriller genre. Examines a half dozen of Woolrich’s novels, from The Bride Wore Black to I Married a Dead Man.
Lee, A. Robert. “The View from the Rear Window: The Fiction of Cornell Woolrich.” In Twentieth-Century Suspense: The Thriller Comes of Age, edited by Clive Bloom. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1990. Analysis of Woolrich’s contributions to the suspense thriller genre, centering on Alfred Hitchcock’s adaptation, Rear Window (1954).
Nevins, Francis M., Jr. Cornell Woolrich: First You Dream, Then You Die. New York: Mysterious, 1988. This comprehensive study of Woolrich’s lengthy career also serves as a history of the pulp and mystery publishing industries.
Renzi, Thomas C. Cornell Woolrich: From Pulp Noir to Film Noir. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2006. Comprehensive study of twenty-two Woolrich novels and short stories and twenty-nine film and television adaptations of his work. Bibliographic references and index.
Roth, Marty. Foul and Fair Play: Reading Genre in Classic Detective Fiction. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1995. A poststructural analysis of the conventions of mystery and detective fiction. Examines 138 short stories and works from the 1840’s to the 1960’s. Contains discussion of Woolrich’s work.
Woolrich, Cornell. Blues of a Lifetime: The Autobiography of Cornell Woolrich. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1991. Woolrich provides a series of vignettes, rather than a single coherent narrative, detailing moments and episodes from his life and career.