RARA-AVIS: Re: Woolrich as Short Story Writer

From: Richard Moore ( moorich@aol.com)
Date: 29 Feb 2008

Jim, believe it or not, the first Mystery Writers of America Edgar awarded to Best Novel was in 1954 (Charlotte Jay's BEAT NOT THE BONES). The MWA awarded Edgars beginning in 1946 but the only awards given in 1946 and 1947 was for Best First Mystery Novel (American) and then from 1948 through 1953, there was an award for Best Short Story to go along with the Best First Novel. The Short Story award in those early years went to entire collections (1952's FANCIES AND GOODNIGHTS by John Collier) or editing (Ellery Queen in 1948 and 1950). The first actual short story to win an individual award was "The House Party" by Stanley Ellin in 1955. An aside here: if you enjoy mystery/crime short stories and have not read Stanley Ellin, you are missing some of the best ever written.

The Edgar to "William Irish" in 1949 was something of a hybrid in that he was cited for "sustained excellence in short story writing and collections: DEADMAN BLUES and THE BLUE RIBBON."

So Woolrich/Irish's best novels came before the Edgar awards were given for best novel. The novels published in his lifetime after 1954 were either not true novels (HOTEL ROOM 1958 was really a short story collection) or awful rehashes of very old pulp stories (DEATH IS MY DANCING PARTNER 1959 and THE DOOM STONE Avon 1960) for publication as paperback originals.

But back to your main question, best at short story or novel? I'd like to think about that some more as it isn't an easy choice for me. He wrote some wonderful short stories but he also wrote some real dogs. The same is true for his novels. Did he reach a higher standard in the short form? Hard to say.

Richard Moore

--- In rara-avis-l@yahoogroups.com, JIM DOHERTY <jimdohertyjr@...> wrote:
> As it's the last day of Woolrich month, I'm wondering
> how many here have concluded that, as good as many of
> his novels are, Woolrich's real strength is in the
> medium of the short story.
> Significantly, the only Edgar he'd ever win (in his
> "William Irish" persona) was in the short story
> category. Even more significantly, this was not for
> any particular short story, but just for general
> continued excellence as a short story writer.
> Arguably, the two best films made from his work, THE
> WINDOW and READ WINDOW, were both based on short
> stories.
> Speaking for myself, very often his novels don't
> altogether work. The many unlikely occurences and
> coincidences, the linchpin of so much of Woolrich's
> work, become too apparent at book-length. Don't get
> me wrong. When he's on his game, as in THE BRIDE WORE
> BLACK or PHANTOM LADY, he's great.
> But his short stories are more consistently good. I
> recommend just about any of his short story
> collections, but NIGHTWEBS and NIGHT & FEAR are
> particularly good. NIGHT & FEAR contain what I've
> been told was Woolrich's personal favorite of his
> short fiction, "Endicott's Girl." My own personal
> favorite, "Detective William Brown," is in the same
> collection.
> Curious to find out how other Rare Birds feel about
> the novel/short story question.
> Never miss a thing. Make Yahoo your home page.
> http://www.yahoo.com/r/hs

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