Cornell Woolrich nails the Femme Fatale trope with a fresh twist in The Bride Wore Black. From beginning to end, you’re routing for the mysterious woman who is killing off men with clever wit and shocking determination. It isn’t until the final pages that you discover the why? of it all, but from the start Woolrich weaves a rich cast of characters, but what makes you burn through the pages is that by getting familiar with the victims you get to know the murderess, who remains nameless for the majority of the novel and a mystery shrouded behind the designs of the killings.
Many stories have trouble keeping things secret and still remain interesting. The Bride Wore Black serves up five distinct murders without divulging its core until the very end, which makes me wonder if I’d be just as thrilled with the story had Woolrich never revealed the big why?, which actually turns out to be very simple. Are we so enamored by violent death that it is enough to show it without moral bearings or reason in the end? I wonder about this because for most of the novel the reader is not given anything to go on. A woman is killing men, planning in fine detail each murder, each more grisly than the last and more desperate as she gets closer to her unknown goal. Woolrich offers nothing and it occurred to me that I was assuming she was in the right from the get go. I had assumed the men she was killing off had wronged her in someway, that the murders were justified homicides even if the law both as portrayed in the book and in real life were and would be opposed to vigilante justice. I assumed killing people was sound and I overlooked the fact that my justifications for her actions didn’t have any sort of logical foundation. The novel doesn’t force itself on you, the reader willingly hopes for the woman to succeed and you discard logic and morality believing this mystery femme has done the brain work for you – and for the right(eous) reasons.
At the very end, a quick plot twist pulls the proverbial rug out from under the murderess, and the reader. I’m too late for the Spoiler Alert, maybe, but Woolrich’s prose is like strong magic tricks, even when you’ve seen how they work, the trick still hooks you every time. The Bride Wore Black will hex you just like black magic and the curse is condoning murder, something none of us would ever do, right?