RE: RARA-AVIS: '40s books (was The Police Procedural in the 1940s)

Date: 02 Jan 2003


Re your comments below:

> Also thanks for the Forties top ten list. The only
> two I had read were SOLOMON'S VINEYARD and A TASTE
> VIOLENCE. Although Halliday's novel didn't make it
> into my "top" list, I still thought it was
> well-written,
> smart, and interesting.

On balance, you're probably right. I thought of nine books easily but couldn't think of a tenth off the top of my head. However "Top Nine" doesn't have the same ring, so I, after some thought, I added in A TASTE FOR VIOLENCE based primarily on my love for "town-tamer" books and on the fact that I still remember it so vividly after reading it as a callow schoolboy.

Though I like A TASTE FOR VIOLENCE very much, on reflection, I think I'd drop it in favor of Cornell Woolrich's THE BRIDE WORE BLACK.

The theme of a murderess avenging the death of a loved one is very compelling, but what struck me most about the book was the structure.

Divided into five parts (one for each murder), each part is, in turn, divided into three chapters. The first is written from the POV of the widow who's trailing each of the men she holds responsible for the death of her husband with the intention of killing them. The second is from the POV of the victim. The third from the POV of the detective on the case.

So far, we've got a classic "inverted mystery," one in which, in contrast to a "whodunit," we see the murder, and know exactly who the murderer is, then sit back and watch while the detective tries to figure out what we already know.

In the last part, however, Woolrich pulls a switch. We know who the murderer is, but not which persona she's adopted for this murder, so the book is suddenly transformed from an "inverted mystery" back to the more common "whodunit." The seemingly effortless switch has always impressed the hell out of me.

Woolrich reworked the theme of "murder to avenge the death of a loved one" in RENDEVOUS IN BLACK, but I thought it was brought off better in BRIDE. I also prefer it to PHANTOM LADY (written as by "William Irish"), which, with BRIDE, is possibly Woolrich's best-known novel.


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