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10.10.07

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Fright

Review by Michael S. Gant


I have a shelf bending under the weight of Cornell Woolrich pulp novels, but I had never read Fright (by George Hopley, one of Woolrich's two pseudonyms, along with William Irish). Thanks to Hard Case Crime, Fright has been reissued with a new lurid cover (the word dishabille barely suffices for illustrator Arthur Suydam's femme fatale). Hollywood loved Woolrich (Rear Window, Phantom Lady, The Leopard Man) because he knew how to ratchet up the tension on doomed characters in a way that practically defined film noir. Fright, written in 1950, is set in 1915. Prescott Marshall, a New Yorker striver, wins a patrician beauty, Marjorie Worth—too bad about the body of a blackmailing doxie he leaves in his closet on his wedding day (it is like a mean, lean version of Dreiser's An American Tragedy). Marshall embarks on a slow-motion cross-country escape, changing jobs suddenly and dragging his unaware but unhappy wife along as he tries to distance himself from his bloody deed. But no matter how far you run, your guilty conscience is right there, magnifying every knock on the door, every letter, every phone call, into the final visit from the police. The mood of relentless fate is summed up as Marshall stares from the window of his honeymoon suite, "not seeing what is there to see, but watching something that is not there to see. Something that no one can see but the eyes of fear. His eyes." Hard Case Crime specializes in vintage pulp and new thrillers in the pulp mode, all with cover art done the old-fashioned way (see www.hardcasecrime.com). (By Cornell Woolrich; Hard Case Crime; 254 pages; $6.99 paper)


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