“There’s death at our shoulders all the time. Every minute, every second.” Those lines encompass the hot, sweaty fear that envelops Cornell Woolrich’s Walls That Hear You.
Murder, insanity, anxiety so torturous it’s almost painful. If you’re holding this book while sitting down, move to the edge of your seat. That’s where you’ll remain while reading each of these relentlessly paced tales by Cornell Woolrich, the undisputed bard of the dark.
Don’t let your fear of the dentist keep you from your appointment with “Death Sits in the Dentist’s Chair,” a frenetic ride through the streets of New York in search of a depraved DDS with a monstrous M.O. Those with a phobia of snakes will sweat through “Mind Over Murder,” a tense and traumatic exercise in cold terror capped with a climax only Woolrich could imagine.
Snakes also figure in “Kiss of the Cobra,” one of Woolrich’s supreme sojourns into the supernatural , and the inspiration for a half-dozen delightfully demented horror films. The movies figure even more deeply in “Double Feature,” Woolrich’s noirish nod to the darkness and shadows that penetrate neighborhood cinemas. Just who is that stranger sitting behind you?
Woolrich takes us from the theater to the library in “The Book That Squealed,” about a tough, resourceful librarian turned amateur detective trailing a kidnapper. “Murder at Mother’s Knee” stars an equally scrappy schoolteacher intent on protecting one of her students from his murderous stepfather. “Momentum,” “Johnny on the Spot,” and “Walls That Hear You” will literally propel you down the streets of Manhattan, accompanied by murder suspects on the run from cops or the deadly predators pursuing them.
Endowed with a superb introduction by Woolrich scholar Francis M. Nevins, this beautifully designed volume with seventeen stories is indispensable for both Woolrich collectors and fans of dark and demonic fiction. If you read it at night, don’t bother reaching for a sleep aid. Cornell Woolrich is the master of the waking nightmare.