Review

Fright

by Cornell Woolrich

Cornell Woolrich is perhaps best known for his novel REAR
WINDOW, famously adapted to film by Alfred Hitchcock. But he
created an amazing and enviable body of work that ultimately earned
him the title "The Father of Noir Fiction." Indeed, he is often
ranked with Dashiell Hammett, Erle Stanley Gardner and Raymond
Chandler.

FRIGHT is not one of Woolrich's better known works; published
under the pen name "George Hopley," it has been out of print for
over five decades. Many of the incidents that occur in this book
appear to be written less as chapters and more as vignettes that
seem to cut away unexpectedly, revealing what is to occur only
later, if at all. It's difficult to tell if Woolrich was utilizing
a stylistic tool or simply engaging in whimsy. Yet, taken as a
whole, this is as stunning and as suspenseful a work as you might
ever read.

Written in 1950, FRIGHT is set in 1915. The social mores,
inventions and language that had evolved and devolved between
the beginning and the middle of the 20th century seem even more
remote and out of place in our current era. Constants remain,
however, as is demonstrated when we meet Preston Marshall, a young
man who is working for a brokerage firm but who seeks higher
status. When he meets and becomes engaged to a young woman named
Marjorie Worth, the attainment of his quest seems assured.
Marshall, we are informed by our omnipresent narrator, loves Worth,
yet there is almost immediately an issue raised as to her
motivation. Still, he courts her and proposes, and she
accepts.

During one unfortunate evening, however, Marshall goes out for a
night of drinking and some weeks later is confronted by a young
woman who begins to blackmail him. What starts as one payment
becomes several, culminating in a demand made on the day of
Marshall and Worth's wedding. Marshall strangles his tormentor, but
his problems are just beginning. Unable to tell his new wife what
he has done, he fears discovery of his act and accepts employment
far from New York.

Yet Marshall feels that every glance is accusatory, every inquiry
into his business an investigation. Certain that he is being
pursued by the authorities, Marshall reacts badly to each and every
occurrence, with the result that his sins are heinously multiplied,
and his life --- with a woman who loves him far more than he
deserves --- collapses under the weight of them.

Woolrich does an amazing job of transforming Marshall's anxiety and
guilt into print, to the extent that Marshall's tension almost
unbearably becomes the reader's own. The tragedies that slowly
unfold as the result of one bad act portend what is almost certain
to be an ominous ending. FRIGHT may well be Hard Case Crime's
darkest release to date. It is almost inconceivable that this
twisted morality tale has remained out of print for so long.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 22, 2011

Fright
by Cornell Woolrich

  • Publication Date: July 31, 2007
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense
  • Mass Market Paperback: 254 pages
  • Publisher: Hard Case Crime
  • ISBN-10: 0843957743
  • ISBN-13: 9780843957747