by Cornell Woolrich
“I haven’t an enemy in the world.”
“No man can safely say that until after his death.”
A young man meets the love of his life every day at 8 p.m. in front of the local drugstore. One days he’s running a couple of minutes late, and when he arrives she’s been killed and is lying in the street among shards of glass. He sets his watch for slightly before 8 p.m. and stops it, to remain at the time forever after.
He’s constantly found at the spot of the former lovers, until the regular beat cop is replaced by the new guy who drives him off. Then the nightmare begins as young Johnny embarks on an unstoppable murder spree to rival anything you’ve ever read in terms of cruelty. He tortures his victims; not the torture of flayed skin and raw nerves—that stuff’s for rookies. Real torture, the kind that works on the mind, is his weapon. The kind that forces the victim to be aware the world is cruel, dispassionate, and unfair. The kind which you go to your grave knowing you were tortured, beaten, and everything you cared about has been ripped away from you forever.
What’s so effective here is your own yearn for justice as this poor kid has his world disintegrate. The young love so passionately, leaving the world behind, and we remember this no matter how jaded, no matter how many divorces or betrayals we’ve gone through–we can still remember our pasts when those loves meant more than everything. So when it happens to Johnny it strikes a nerve.
Then when he goes about the business of tracking down any and all responsible for his loss with the aim of causing them the same pain, we get attached to the victims’ relationships and that strikes a nerve, too. So we’re being hit from both sides. Even during the carnage the author ping-pongs this successfully.
The investigator assigned to the first case, Cameron, is another compelling character. Approaching everything as if he’s new to it, he bumbles through situations on the outside while shrewdly calculating on the inside, paving the way for detectives like Columbo. He’s an excellent sleuth, but it almost doesn’t seem to matter as his opponent brings a supernatural-like omniscience against his victims. He will not be stopped. For anything.
Having now finished the six Black novels, I can say this is undoubtedly the best. Woolrich may have written another novel that reaches the same heights this one did, but he did not beat it. Novels like this are never beaten by anyone. They can be equaled, but only by the masterpiece.
This book breaks your heart as you hold your breath, and it absolutely is not to be missed.
When you want to believe, you believe.
I shall be waiting