Friday 21 February 2020

Forgotten Book - I Wake Up Screaming

I Wake Up Screaming is a pulpy crime novel by Steve Fisher, set in Hollywood and first published in 1941. It was turned into a film noir which was also known as Hot Spot, and later remade as Vicki. Unusually, Fisher updated the story for later editions. He had crammed the novel with topical allusions, and sought to modernise them to retain a contemporary feel.

In classic noir fashion, this story, narrated by a Hollywood writer, involves a man trapped in a nightmarish situation. The protagonist falls for a studio secretary, Vicki Lynn, who is aiming to become a film star, although he also finds himself attracted to her sister, a torch singer, Jill. Just as Vicki's dreams are starting to come true, she is murdered. And our hero is a prime suspect.

The unusual feature of the story is the obsessive pursuit of the protagonist by a detective, a dying man called Ed Cornell. Cornell was based in part on Cornell Woolrich, who can hardly have felt flattered. Cornell is a gifted detective, but he seems uninterested in any other suspect, although several other people might have had a motive to kill Vicki.

Fisher references Raffles, and crime writers ranging from Dorothy L. Sayers to Horace McCoy, whose They Shoot Horses, Don't They? seems to me a much more powerful novel of crime in Tinseltown than this one. It's a book I'd been after for years, and it's certainly pacy. Overall, however, I was rather disappointed. I was expecting something more than simply a workmanlike effort. The story didn't grip me, I'm afraid. Woolrich did this sort of thing much better.


RT said...

Cornell? Funny! Thanks for your fine appraisal. I too will stick with CW rather than look for this one.

Clothes in Books said...

I saw the film of this years ago - a very classic piece of b/w pulp noir...