Thursday, August 28, 2014

Review of I Married a Dead Man by Cornell Woodrich (Penguin, 1948)

Originally from San Francisco, but having moved to New York, Helen is 19 and eight months pregnant with the child of gambler and cad, Steve Georgesson.  He abandons her, leaving her with a train ticket home and five dollars.  On a packed train she meets Patrice, who is similarly pregnant, and her husband, Hugh, who are travelling to meet his parents for the first time.  Patrice is an only child and her parents are dead.  Sharing the bathroom, Helen minds Patrice’s wedding ring to stop it slipping down the plughole, but then the train derails.  Patrice and Hugh perish, but Helen survives along with her premature baby.  She wakes in a hospital and is assumed to be Patrice.  Every time she tries to reveal the truth, fate conspires against her, and once she is ensconced in Hugh’s parent’s comfortable house the lie is sealed.  For the next couple of years Helen lives in fear of her secret being discovered and then Georgesson reappears in her life, threatening blackmail.

Cornell Woodrich was a prolific writer of short stories and noir novels.  His stories were made into 33 noir movies.  Published in 1948, I Married A Dead Man was produced as a movie on four occasions.  The tale tells the story of a young, pregnant woman who takes the identity of another woman who has died, along with husband, in a train accident, and subsequently lives in fear of being discovered.  Whilst the tale is a little melodramatic at times, both the telling and the plot are excellent, with a wicked twist in the denouement.  Woodrich saturates the story with paranoia, anxiety and desperation through some evocative prose, and peppers the tale with astute observations about the various players.  The result is a compelling, dark, atmospheric tale by one of the noir masters of the twentieth century.


Anonymous-9 said...

Thanks for this Rob. You make a strong recommendation which I'll heed. Cheers, Anonymous-9

TracyK said...

I had read about this story but forgot it was by Woolrich. It sounds like a good one to start with. I have always worried that his books would be too gritty or heavy for me, but want to challenge myself to read some authors like that.