The Phantom Lady William Irish (Cornell Woolrich) 1942 IP
I know you’re all thinking, ‘oh no, not HIM again!’ but yes, Woolrich again, and again, and again, because he was that good. I was going to write a review of I Married a Dead Man until i realized I’d written an article about selling it, and that will work for its review–so that left me with a couple of Woolrich’s to go, Phantom Lady being one. And why not? It was the first book I reviewed on Amazon–way back in 1999. I’ve reviewed a massive 3 books since then. Why bother with a classic crime noir title? Because the edition I was reviewing was an exact facsimile of the original book, dust jacket art and all, and that was damn cool. I have that facsimile, because no way am I ever going to be able to afford a first of this particular Woolrich. I do own Dead Man, and Black Alibi–two others on this list, but Phantom Lady is a much scarcer title and thus mucho dolores.
So I went back to Amazon to see if my old review was up–and so it was! The first one shown, too. Most people found my little ditty the ‘most helpful.’ Ha ha ha. I hadn’t signed it with my name at the time, so it isn’t among the few others I did–it won’t come up under my name, if searching. Here are my profound words:
“Cornell Woolrich or William Irish, the pseudonym he used for this title and others, was the master of dark intense suspense novels, filled with nightmare circumstances thwarting average people’s lives. One such tale is PHANTOM LADY wherein Scott Henderson is the hapless soul beleaguered by a dead wife, strangled with his own necktie, and by the police demanding to know his alibi. The only hope he has is the dim memory of a woman in a pumpkin colored hat complete with a huge feather he chatted with in a bar after the argument with his wife. But because he hasn’t a name nor a description, other than the hat, the police aren’t quick to believe him and when witnesses to their conversation all claim she was never there, his world spirals into an inexplicable nightmare.You won’t find a suspense novel as tight, swift and dark as this around much anymore and read in the spectacularly reproduced original dust jacket art and meticulously recreated boards, the experience might only be matched if you were able to own an original gem. But then who could afford to? Much better to read this masterpiece as the facsimile!”
Not too shabby! But I do leave out much of the intense suspenseful plot, with good reason–give too much away, ruin it for everyone. But I can say how it begins with the countdown of days before Scott Henderson is executed for his wife’s murder, and how each chapter gets closer and closer to the big day, as his friends search all over for the mystery pumpkin hat lady. It’s the baffling fact that no witness will admit she exists, let alone spent those hours in Scott’s company. Not the bartender, anyone at a show they saw, no taxi driver, nary a soul remembers her. Only Woolrich can pull off this kind of outrageous drama and not seem over the top. Or if over the top, we accept it because hysteria is done so well in his hands.
I’ve not yet read the intensive bio of Woolrich written by the authority on the writer, Francis Nevins, because I’ve not yet read everything Woolrich wrote, and reading the bio will reveal spoilers–but I do wish I had more insight into this man’s twisted sad mind because it takes a lot of angst to come up with these dark sometimes deeply depressing plots that may or may not end well for the characters and through them, the reader. Then again, that’s the lure of a Woolrich–one never knows, does one?
Check out the ever growing list with review links