In The Spotlight: Cornell Woolrich’s Night Has a Thousand Eyes

SpotlightHello, All,

Welcome to another edition of In The Spotlight. Cornell Woolrich isn’t perhaps as well-known as some of his contemporaries such as Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. Yet his work was quite influential and was the basis of several noir films of the era. It’s about time this feature included a Woolrich novel, so let’s look at one today and turn the spotlight on Night Has a Thousand Eyes.

The novel begins late one night when New York Homicide Bureau Detective Tom Shawn is taking a walk by the river. He sees a young woman about to jump off a bridge and rushes to save her. He gets to her just in time and convinces her to go with him away from the bridge. He sees immediately that she’s both well-off and good looking, and there seems no reason for her to want to commit suicide. But she clearly wanted to, which makes Shawn curious. They go to an all-night restaurant where he persuades her to tell her story.

She is Jean Reid, only child of wealthy and successful Harlan Reid, and aside from losing her mother at the age of two, she’s had a good life. That is, until recently, when her story takes a bizarre and darker turn. It all starts when her father takes a business trip to San Francisco. The housemaid warns her of terrible danger if he returns on the date he planned. At first Jean doesn’t take the warning seriously, but enough of her wonders if it’s true that she almost sends him a telegram asking him to change his plans.

When the plane Reid had intended to take crashes with no survivors, Jean is of course convinced that he has died. Then she finds out that he got a telegram and changed his plans. Although she didn’t contact him, someone must have done so. When he gets back home, she tells her father about what happened. Now both Reids want to know what’s behind this incident. They talk to the housemaid and at last convince her to introduce them to the man who knew about the crash before it happened. He is Jeremiah Tompkins, a man who is, as he sees it, cursed with being able to predict the future accurately.

Against his better judgement (and the maid’s warning), Reid begins to visit Tompkins regularly when he is faced with important decisions. As each of Tompkins’ predictions comes true, Reid believes in him more and more. Then comes the bombshell. Tompkins predicts Reid’s death on a certain night at midnight. Now everything changes, as Reid firmly believes that there is no way to escape his certain fate. If the prediction is correct, he’s got three more days, and Jean can no longer tolerate the stress; hence her decision to end it all.

Although he’s not fanciful, Shawn is drawn in by this story. He persuades Jean to come with him to the police department and involve his boss, who may have a better idea of what to do. When Shawn’s boss McManus hears the story, he immediately suspects that Tompkins may be trying to manipulate Reid, who is, after all, a wealthy man. So he gets a team of detectives together to look into the telegram, the other predictions, and the details of what is predicted about Reid’s death. Bit by bit, the team finds out about Tompkins’ and Reid’s backgrounds, and learns what may be behind everything.

In the meantime, Shawn does his best to protect both Reid and his daughter in order to prevent the tragedy that’s been foretold. As the time gets closer and closer, we see how each of them responds to the increasing sense of fear. We also see how McManus and his team try to uncover the truth before it’s too late.

This is a psychological study as much as it is anything else. So we see how Harlan Reid changes, even physically, as the time gets closer to his predicted death. We also see how the pressure affects his daughter. The fear of death and its inevitable approach have a strong impact. In that way, this is arguably a novel of psychological suspense, and the tension is built as the various characters react to the increasing psychological pressure.

Since there is a focus on psychology rather than on other things, the violence in the novel doesn’t ‘take the stage.’ It’s mentioned, but readers who prefer to avoid gore and a high ‘body count’ will be pleased that this novel has neither. It’s arguably a case of imagination being more powerful than actual reality.

The novel is also part police procedural. So we follow the police as they try to find out who is manipulating Reid before he’s killed. Is Tompkins also being manipulated? Is he an innocent pawn or is he a shrewd scam artist? Part of the trail leads to an itinerant circus, so the police investigate that as well. And that leads them straight into another murder investigation which may or may not be connected. As the police look into that death as well as the apparent threat to Reid’s life, we see the pragmatic reality of trying to prevent a murder.

There is an element of fatalism in the novel as well. Right from the beginning, Reid doesn’t want to believe that Tompkins’ predictions will be accurate; neither does his daughter. In fact more than once it’s clear that he’s hoping his decisions will turn out disastrously, just to prove that you can’t predict the future. The tone of the novel (it is a noir novel after all) is one of the inescapability of one’s fate; it’s a bit like watching two cars hurtling towards each other, knowing what will happen and being unable to prevent it.

That said though, readers who like prosaic solutions to their mysteries need fear not. There are questions left unanswered, but the case isn’t really solved by psychic power. It’s possibly more accurate to say that in this novel, we see the strength of psychology. The belief that someone can predict the future, especially when there is evidence that it may be true, can take a very strong hold.

Woolrich’s writing style is quite descriptive:
 

‘It was a short cut, a sort of branch trail, that left the main highway at about the Hughes farm and rejoined it again at mid-village. The main highway took a slight bend getting in, and this little trail ran straight. It was the string to the highway’s bow. It was tree-walled and bramble-blind and not very good, but it was the shortest line between two points.’
 

Readers who prefer straightfoward storytelling will notice this.

Night Has a Thousand Eyes is the story of what happens when a terrifying possibility takes hold. The story is told from multiple perspectives, and the ending, like the endings of most noir novels, is not a cheerful one. It has a strong thread of psychological tension and features a cast of characters who may or may not be trapped in their own inevitability. But what’s your view? Have you read Night Has a Thousand Eyes? If you have, what elements do you see in it?
 
 
 

Coming Up On In The Spotlight
 

Monday 27 October/Tuesday 28 October – The Dying Light – Alison Jospeh

Monday 3 November/Tuesday 4 November – The Suspect – Michael Robotham

Monday 10 November/Tuesday 11 November – A Duty to the Dead – Charles Todd

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An Open Letter to Frontier Airlines

NoFrontier

Dear Frontier Airlines:

I recently had my first experience on Frontier flights. It will also most emphatically be my last. Let me explain why.

First, when I visited your online site to check into my flight, I discovered that there is a US$30.00 charge for every carry-on, per flight. That was never mentioned when I originally purchased my ticket, and that alone seems deceptive. The bigger problem though is being charged for a small carry-on. I’ve flown on many airlines, to many different destinations. I’ve been on very long international flights, and short commuter flights. I have never been charged for one carry-on on any other flight.

This is the offending 'excess baggage.' For purposes of comparison, I'm just over 1.5m (5 ft) tall.

This is the offending ‘excess baggage.’ For purposes of comparison, I’m just over 1.5m (5 ft) tall.

What is more, the carry-on I had with me was regulation pilot-size, more than small enough to meet the requirements for carry-ons on your flights. Your baggage receipt labelled my small carry-on as ‘excess baggage.’ I do not regard one small pilot-size suitcase, plus my handbag, to be ‘excess.’

As though that fee weren’t enough reason to choose never to fly Frontier again, I had another unpleasant surprise when I boarded the flight. I discovered that Frontier charges for everything consumed on board, including water, coffee, tea and juice. The risk of dehydration during flights is not a trivial one; it is avaricious, penny-pinching and worse, heedless of passenger safety to charge for these beverages. That is especially true for passengers who must take medications with liquid. Again, I have been on a wide variety of flights, both very short and very long. Never, on any flight, have I been expected to pay for water or coffee. And again, this was not indicated when I purchased my ticket.

It might be one thing if this was just my own experience, but as it turns out, I am not alone in having serious problems with Frontier. A friend and his wife also recently took a Frontier flight. They discovered when the flight landed that the handle of their brand-new suitcase had been completely broken, so that the suitcase could not be moved. The Frontier representative with whom they dealt informed them that there would be no compensation for that damage, although it had happened while the suitcase was in the care of Frontier’s employees. The legalities of responsibility aside, it shows a serious lack of customer service that Frontier, through its representative, did so little to make this situation right. Something could, and should, have been worked out to satisfy these paying passengers.

Today’s airline customers have a number of choices. So, aside from safety, customer service and comfort should be top priorities for every airline. That is particularly the case for passengers such as my friend and myself, who travel regularly, and who willingly comply with all safety regulations and other airline policies. It is clear that Frontier regards neither customer service nor comfort as a priority.

Since I have choices, I will exercise them. Under no circumstances will I ever board a Frontier flight again. Further, I will strongly encourage my employer’s travel planner, who is responsible for most employees’ flight arrangements, to cease suggesting Frontier. This is a potential loss of hundreds of passengers, since I work for a large employer. I am also using all of the social media tools at my disposal, as well as word of mouth, to share my experiences. I hope that by doing this, I can spare as many people as possible the same difficulties I have encountered on Frontier.

Sincerely,

Margot Kinberg

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Gonna Climb a Mountain*

MountainsThe ‘photo shows one of the real natural treasures of Colorado – the US Rocky Mountains. Little wonder Colorado’s called the Rocky Mountain State, and Denver’s baseball team is the Colorado Rockies. The mountains are breathtaking, even from a distance. But of course, mountains can be awfully dangerous too, even if one’s accustomed to living in them. So it shouldn’t be surprising that there’s plenty of mountainous crime fiction out there. Space only allows for a few examples; I’m sure you’ll be able to fill in the gaps I leave.

Patricia Moyes’ Dead Men Don’t Ski introduces readers to Scotland Yard inspector Henry Tibbett and his wife Emma. In this novel, they take a trip to Santa Chiara, in the Italian Alps, where they stay at the Bella Vista Hotel. This hotel caters mostly to skiers, and it’s only accessible via a long ski lift. That ski lift becomes a crime scene when of the hotel’s guests Fritz Hauser is shot and his body found on one of the downward facing cars. Capitano Spezzi and his team take on the investigation, and when Spezzi finds out that Tibbett is with Scotland Yard, he gradually takes takes Tibbett into his confidence. Together they begin to investigate, and as they do, they learn that several people at the hotel have been hiding things. It turns out that there are several people who had a motive to murder the victim. Then there’s another murder. Now the two sleuths have to find out how those two deaths are connected.

In Craig Johnson’s The Cold Dish, Sheriff Walt Longmire of Absaroka County, Wyoming investigates the murder of Cody Pritchard. The victim’s body was found on public land, and there’s not much evidence at first to connect him with the murderer. Then, there’s another murder. Jacob Esper is shot by what appears to be the same gun. Now Longmire suspects he knows what may be behind these deaths. The two victims were part of a group of four young men who gang-raped then-sixteen-year-old Melissa Little Bird. All four got off with what many people thought was far too light a sentence. That fact, plus some of the evidence, suggests that the killer might be a member of the Cheyenne Nation out for revenge. If so, most people won’t be in a hurry to go after that person, and the killer could be planning to target the other two young men involved in the earlier crime. So Longmire decides to track them down and try to prevent more murders. That proves to be far more difficult than he thinks, and he and his friend Henry Standing Bear end up following the trail of one of them into the mountains. When a sudden storm comes up, they end up in as much danger from nature as from the killer.

Nevada Barr’s Track of the Cat is set mostly in the Guadalupe Mountains National Park. US National Park Service Ranger Anna Pigeon has been assigned to work at that park, and she’s settled into her job. One day Pigeon discovers the body of fellow Ranger Sheila Drury. She immediately reports the death and the police machinery is put into motion. It looks at first as though Drury was killed by a mountain lion, but Pigeon’s hoping that’s not so. If the news gets out that a mountain lion was responsible for killing a human, it’s likely that all of the other mountain lions in the area will soon become targets for the locals. And that might put the lion population in real danger, since many of the area’s residents are none too fond of them. Besides, Pigeon has noticed a few things that aren’t consistent with murder by a big cat. So she begins to ask questions about Drury’s death, and comes up against something going on at the park that’s bigger than she had imagined.

Sam Hilliard’s Mike Brody is a former Special Forces operative who now operates an extreme adventure company S&B Outfitters. Before their divorce, he and his ex-wife Jessica Barrett had arranged a holiday at Montana’s Pine Woods Dude Ranch. Despite the awkwardness, they decide to go ahead with that plan, hoping that it’ll be good for their son Andy. While they’re there, fourteen-year-old Sean Jackson disappears from the ranch, where he was staying with his family. It turns out that Sean witnessed the murder of David St. John, and he’s afraid that the killer might have seen him and might come after him. So he’s run off without thinking things through – straight into some very unforgiving country. Detective Lisbeth McCarthy has found out that Brody is in the area and asks for his help in tracking Sean before the killer, or the elements, find him.

And then there’s Anne Holt’s 1222. A group of passengers is en route by train from Oslo to Bergen when there’s a crash that kills the conductor. The passengers are rescued and taken to a hotel until arrangements can be made for them. Among those stranded by the crash is former police detective Hanne Wilhelmson, who simply wants to be left alone to live her life. But when there’s a murder at the hotel, she’s drawn into it very much against her will. Then there’s another death. And another. Now she’ll have to use her detection skills to catch the killer if there are to be no more murders.

There’s also Vicki Delany’s Under Cold Stone, which features Alberta’s Rocky Mountains. In that novel, Lucy ‘Lucky’ Smith and her partner Paul Keller (Trafalgar, British Columbia’s Chief Constable) decide to have a private getaway. Their plan is to take a trip to Banff, Alberta and enjoy the natural beauty – and each other’s company. Everything changes though when Keller’s estranged son Matt disappears. It’s not going to be easy to find him either, as he’s a very experienced camper who’s accustomed to outdoor life. What’s more, he could well be guilty of a murder that’s recently been committed, so he has to be found as quickly as possible. Lucky’s daughter, Constable Moonlight ‘Molly’ Smith, doesn’t have jurisdiction in the Banff area, but she goes there to be of whatever support she can to her mother. While she’s there, Matt Keller’s girlfriend asks her to find him and help clear his name. So Smith begins to ask questions. She soon finds out that the natural dangers on a mountain are far from the only threats to her…

So as you see, mountains are beautiful. They’re important parts of the ecosystem too, and they’re delightful holiday destinations too. But safe?
 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this song is a line from The Marshall Tucker Band’s Can’t You See?

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Filed under Anne Holt, Craig Johnson, Nevada Barr, Patricia Moyes, Sam Hilliard, Vicki Delany

The Latest From Your Special Reporter ;-)

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It’s The Colorado Rocky Mountain High*

DenverIt’s called the Mile High City, among other things, because of its location above sea level. It’s full of history, beautiful scenery, sport and some excellent food and locally brewed beer. Oh, and there are great people too. Yes, I’m talking about Denver. Originally, Denver was a mining town during the Pike’s Peak gold rush of the mid-1850s (hence the name of Denver’s basketball team, the Nuggets). But it’s much more than that. Colorado is also the home of several Native American Nations, including the Arapaho and the Ute. And there’s a heavy influence from the state’s ranching history too. All of this makes Denver a really interesting Western US city located in one of the country’s most breathtaking places, the US Rocky Mountains.

Denver can also be dangerous. What? You don’t believe me? Well it is. It’s the setting for some fine crime fiction. I only have space for a few examples here, but they ought to serve to give you a sense of what I mean.

Michael Connelly’s The Poet features reporter Jack McEvoy of the Rocky Mountain News. As a crime reporter, he’s seen his share of death in all of its ugly forms. But then he learns that his twin brother Sean, a cop with the Denver Police Department, has committed suicide. McEvoy didn’t even know his brother was that fragile mentally, but it’s not so surprising considering the last case Sean was working on before his death: the very brutal murder of university student Theresa Lofton. The case generated a lot of publicity and has been very difficult for all of the police involved, especially since they haven’t been able to solve it. But there are little clues, including a message that Sean left behind, that suggest his death was not suicide. So his brother looks into the case more deeply and finds that a dangerous killer has been at work.

Stephen White’s psychological thriller series ‘stars’ Dr. Alan Gregory. Gregory is a clinical psychologist based in Boulder, Colorado, which is about 30 miles/48 km from Denver. His partner, later his wife, is Deputy District Attorney Lauren Crowder. The twenty-book series is mostly based in the Denver/Boulder area, but occasionally Gregory travels in the course of his work. Many of the plots have to do with Gregory’s clients, although some are related to his wife’s work. Some are also connected with his past. For instance, Manner of Death begins with the death of a former colleague Arnie Dresser. When Gregory is asked to help find out whether Dresser was murdered, he discovers that someone seems to be targeting the group of people who were in his own psychiatry preparation program. Now he’ll have to work with another former colleague Dr. Sawyer Sackett to find out who the killer is.

C.J. Box is perhaps best known for his Joe Pickett series, which takes place in Wyoming. But his standalone Three Weeks to Say Goodbye is set in Denver. Jack McGuane and his wife Melissa are the loving parents of beautiful baby Angelina. Everything changes though when it comes out that Angelina’s biological father Garrett Moreland never relinquished his parental rights. Now he wants to exercise them. As you can imagine, the McGuanes refuse to give up their daughter. When Garrett’s powerful father Judge John Moreland hears of this, he and Garrett visit the McGuanes to try to persuade them, and then bribe them, to change their minds. They refuse again and Moreland strikes back. He issues a court order directing them to surrender Angelina to the court within twenty-one days. Now the McGuanes have a terrible choice. They decide to do whatever it takes to keep their daughter. And as the story goes on, we see what a terrible price ‘whatever it takes’ exacts.

Peg Brantley’s Red Tide is the story of Jamie Taylor, a Colorado bank loan professional who also volunteers as a rescue dog trainer. When a convicted killer tells the FBI where he buried his victims, Taylor and her dogs are sent to the scene to try to find the bodies. They’re successful, but they also make another eerie discovery: there are bodies there that this killer could not have buried. Now Taylor gets involved in the search for the person who used the same remote field as a burial ground. As an interesting note, the climactic scenes in this case take place near Denver’s Mile High Stadium during a US football game featuring the Denver Broncos.

Colorado is also the home of a very active and creative crime fiction community including Patricia Stoltey and Beth Groundwater, among many others. I encourage you to check out Patricia Stoltey’s terrific blog for all the latest in Colorado authors’ news (Psst….her novel Dead Wrong will be coming out soon!!). You can also visit the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers website and catch up on Colorado fiction.

So, in case you didn’t already know this, you can see that Denver may be gorgeous, but you may just want to look out….just to be sure…
 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from John Denver’s Rocky Mountain High.

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Filed under Beth Groundwater, C.J. Box, Michael Connelly, Patricia Stoltey, Peg Brantley, Stephen White