Next week we look at the work of Georges Simenon. Other reviews are also
welcome. Happy to post any where necessary.
Ed Gorman is the author of the Dev Conrad and Sam McCain series. You can find him here.
Rendezvous In Black by Cornell Woolrich
This is one of Woolrich's famous "Black" books and black it is. Bleak as David Goodis gets his protagonists usually attempt to make some kind of connection to another human being. Not with with Woolrich.
I'm not going to describe the set-up here because laid it flat it is so outlandish you might think twice about reading the book. But Cornell Woolrich was nothing if not shrewd. By the time you figure out what's going on you've had a chance to prepare yourself. You've been putting it all together piece by piece so when the picture is complete you just nod and accept it.
And anyway as with most Woolrich books and stories the set-up doesn't matter all that much anyway. What makes Woolrich Woolrich is how his protagonists respond to the set-up. This novel is built on a series of richly detailed character studies of several men who have begun dying in ways that would be ironic even to them if they could step back and see it with any objectivity.
Woolrich is often compared to Poe and while I think that's fair--they are both masters of claustrophobia and obsession--I think in all Woolrich's real literary father was Guy de Mauppassant. Woolrich has de Mauppassant's fascination with society high and low for one thing, and a sly ear and eye for realistic daily life. There is a lot of Edward Hopper in Woolrich's word paintings of the Thirties and Forties. I'm not sure that Poe an equivalent interest in his own time.
This is my favorite Woolrich novel which is to say that he has told a story of such cleverness and nihilistic power you see why Woolrich is so revered. This is one of those books, one of those books that crush, and linger on long after you finish it.
Brazzaville Beach, William Boyd
I read this in 1991 and starred it in my log. I have only a slim memory of it so most of this comes courtesy of other reviewers. I did love it at the time but couldn't make time to reread it. Still, it's a book and an author worth reading. THE ICE CREAM WARS is another Boyd book enjoyed at the time.
Hope Clearwater is an ecologist working in Africa. She lives alone in a beach house , trying to patch together her shattered life. She came to Africa to participate in primate research and to heal the deep wounds of her marriage to a brilliant English mathematician who went mad; but she soon found herself plunged into another crisis, one that threatened not only her career but also her life. In a book packed with scientific and mathematical metaphors, Boyd explores how people create, defend, ignore, or subvert the belief systems that govern their lives. If on one level this is an intellectual thriller, on another it is very much an exciting and riveting adventure story, and on yet another a subtle examination of the power grid of personal relationships.
John F. Norris
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