The Black Angel

by Cornell Woolrich

Out of all the thousands and thousands of fine constructive women in this world, what evil star made him pick her out? What got him about her? Couldn’t he see, couldn’t he tell—?

Told entirely from Alberta ‘Angel-Face’ French’s point of view, our female protagonist learns her husband is having an affair with the gorgeous Mia Mercer. Alberta visits Mia to confront her about the affair only to find her murdered, a crime implicating her husband as he was there earlier in the day. He’s sentenced to death, but Alberta believes in his innocence and has a few months to prove it before he’s executed.

Her investigation is a lonely one, as the police believe they already have their man despite her protests, but she has three names from an address book that she thinks may be involved. This book is the process of her eliminating suspects from that list, a process that drags her through the dark underbelly of the city and robs her of her innocence.

Couple ‘o things. First, this book has all the repartee we love in noir, as is par for Woolrich:

Although I was there to kill him myself, the full impact of what she’d done to him only came to me now as I got this better look at him. She’d killed him a thousand times to my one.

(Reviews are out there stating Woolrich just isn’t much of a writer. But after repeatedly encountering deep and encompassing storytelling as well as top-notch noir inner monologue and dialogue, it sure would be nice to reach out and slap someone, to knock a little sense into some poor fools.)

Did I kill that man? Was it I, by what I did last night?
And the answer was obvious, undeniable. I shook my head slowly and without hypocrisy. No, I was kind to him. I gave him something to die for.

(C’mon!)

Second, while most of this book does take the reader deep into the story, providing a rich, grimy atmosphere, something comes loose near the end. It’s not bad, it’s actually still quite good, but somehow the alignment’s out of whack over the last few pages. This novel was expanded from the framework of one of his short stories (and combined with a second short story), and that original story has a much different ending, so it’s possible all the narrative gears were aiming for another place than where the vehicle ended up this time. It’s good, especially Alberta’s final thoughts, but based on earlier experience with the author I was hoping for something spectacular.

Back to that writing… that internal monologue. That unquestionable command of short, hard-boiled sentences. When it’s all wrapped up and the book is closed on the table in front of you, these things stay with you.

Good-by, my dear.
You never knew me.
I never knew you.

3+ stars

 

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