Cornell Woolrich, 1903-1968, wrote great crime stories including, “It had to be Murder,” made into the classic Hitchcock film “Rear Window.” In fact over thirty movies have been made from his stories, including two by French director Francois Truffaut, “The Bride Wore Black,” and “Mississippi Mermaid.”
But one that escaped the moves is one he wrote under the name George Hopley. The title is “Fright” and it is about a man who kills a woman on the day of his wedding because she is blackmailing him and he wants nothing to upset his plans. The story goes into how he tries to evade the private detective he believes is after him. He and his wife move to another city and he believes a new man in the office is the detective that is after him. The killer murders him and another person. He clearly has that paranoia/guilt that you find in the killer of Poe’s tale, “The Tell Tale Heart.”
The story winds down to an what seems an appropriate ending, a type of justice, because after what he has just done, there is no way out. But the problem is that while you are reading this ending you are aware there is one more chapter.
I won’t tell what is revealed in the final chapter, but I will say my jaw literally dropped open. It is the “You got to be kidding” type of ending. The phrase “I never saw this coming,” is accurate to the nth degree. It is the type of ending that makes you reflect on the entire story, makes you reevaluate, makes you ponder something more than justice, takes you on an entire new journey of thought. I read the book about a year ago and the ending still haunts me.
As a writer you can not help but admire what Woolrich did. The book is not a mere crime story. It is more than a story about guilt, worry, paranoia. It goes far beyond that. Woolrich leads you down an expected path with wonderful writing, then twists your mind into a pretzel.
Does Woolrich play a trick on the reader? I will never tell. But it is a perfect book for writers to study, to figure out for themselves how to construct a great ending.
At the top of this site is info on who I am and what my novels and short stories are about. My Seattle Mariner blog is here. Thanks for reading.