Friday, 9 July 2021

Forgotten Book - Waltz into Darkness

I discovered Cornell Woolrich in the 1980s, when many of his books were published in paperback with insighful introductions from Francis M. Nevins. I became a real fan and when Mike Nevins published Woolrich's biography, I also devoured that. Two years ago, at Bouchercon in Dallas, I had the pleasure of meeting Mike Nevins at long last and took the chance to thank him for helping to enthuse me about Woolrich.

One novel which escaped me until very recently was Woolrich's historical mystery, Waltz into Darkness. I set about reading it as part of my research and preparation for work on 'The Woman Who Never Was', a short story that is intended as a tribute to Woolrich. 

First published in 1947 under the pen-name William Irish, the book is set in New Orleans in 1880. The protagonist is Louis Durand, who is a prosperous businessman in his thirties, but in many respects a typically doom-laden Woolrichian character. At the start of the story, he is eagerly anticipating the arrival of his bride-to-be Julia. He's never met her, but they have conducted their romance by correspondence. Ah, those days before dating apps!

When the lady arrives, she is extremely attractive and charming. The snag is that her appearance doesn't match her photo. She comes up with a plausible explanation, and Louis becomes besotted. So much so that he gladly gives her access to his bank account. But then she makes herself scarce, taking his money with her. And Louis realises that he's been well and truly conned.

The snag is that despite his unhappiness and fury, he remains infatuated. He hires a private detective to find her, and eventually tracks her down, but with disastrous results. Suffice to say that although Woolrich at his best is compelling, you definitely shouldn't read him in hope of a happy ending.  


karabekirus said...

I am a big fan of Woolrich, and I think the Waltz is his best novel, however underrated. The ending may be unhappy, but I think it is a triumph for Louis Durand.

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks, that's very well put and quite persuasive.

RJS said...

In 1984, Black Box Thrillers published a wonderful collection of Cornell Woolrich novels (The Bride Wore Black, Phantom Lady, , Waltz Into Darkness) and they included the Rear Window novella.

Ted said...

I believe there was a 2001 movie called 'Original Sin' based on this book. It starred Angelina Jolie and Antonio Banderas.

Martin Edwards said...

RJS, Ted. Thanks. I'd quite like to see a film version of the book