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I married a dead man by Cornell Woolrich

I married a dead man (original 1948; edition 1982)

by Cornell Woolrich

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218553,416 (3.83)20
Title:I married a dead man
Authors:Cornell Woolrich
Info:New York : Ballantine Books, 1983, c 1982.
Collections:Your library

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I Married a Dead Man by Cornell Woolrich (1948)



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With a title like that, I needed to read this book. And with a cover like this, I figured it would be pretty creepy, or at least unsettling. It certainly was that.

Helen is pregnant and has been abandoned by the man who did it, but she has received a one-way ticket to San Francisco. On the train she meets a couple named Patrice and Hugh. They are going to visit Hugh's parents, whom Patrice has never met. Patrice has just given Helen her wedding band to try on when the train crashes, and Patrice and Hugh are killed. So the rescuers think that Helen is Patrice, and she gets a chance to start anew. At least for a while...

This was an excellent book. In addition to the gripping plot, Woolrich's writing was particularly skilful, using repetition (with slight alterations) to great effect. (See the beginnings of Chapters 25, 26 and 27 for an example.) I could not put it down, even when it was almost too tense to carry on with. Highly recommended if you can get your hands on a copy. ( )
  rabbitprincess | Oct 18, 2014 |
This book has a clever premise, which I won't give away, but suffers throughout - particularly at the beginning and end - from an overly melodramatic narrative that definitely dulls the fascination of seeing how the sort-of-heroine deals with her unique situation and the threats to the future of her and her child. It's like reading some sort of out of control romance novel. Woolrich could, and did, write a lot better than this in other books and stories. In the end, the resolution depends on the weakness of character of the two main characters to perpetuate the whole melodramatic business. Or maybe Woolrich couldn't think up a better ending. This is based on an earlier short story, which had a different ending. ( )
  datrappert | Feb 16, 2010 |
This book was incredible! I bought it for a film noir class, but we never got around to it, so I read it in my spare time, and I'm glad I did. The story is fast-paced, but not so fast-paced that you get lost in all the action. The story line is easy to follow, and the author has an excellent writing style. Woolrich is also surprisingly knowledgeable about the way that women think. ( )
  AlbinoRhino | Aug 22, 2009 |
Great noir novel. This was my first time reading any books by this author and after some preliminary research, I see that they are largely out of print, even the library selections are sparse. I will continue to try to hunt them down however.This author should definitely be rediscovered.

The story:
Young Helen boards a train heading west, seven months pregnant and abandoned by the baby's father. On the train she meets Patrice and her husband Hugh. Patrice lets Helen try on her wedding ring, and shortly thereafter the train crashes killing also pregnant Patrice and Hugh. Hugh's parents have never met Patrice however. When Helen wakes up in the hospital, everyone assumes she is the deceased Patrice. To save her son and provide a home life for him Helen assumes Patrice's identity and is taken in by Hugh's family. This is only the beginning of a series of events that turn Helen's life upside down. ( )
  jonesli | Feb 23, 2009 |
The first version of I Married a Dead Man appeared as a novella in the April 1946 issue of Today's Woman. By 1948, when the book was published under the pseudonym William Irish, Cornell Woolrich had expanded his novella and completely rewritten its ending, resulting in a fine American Noir novel that has been filmed at least three times. The best known movie version of I Married a Dead Man is the 1950 film starring Barbara Stanwyck for which the title was changed to No Man of Her Own. The movie is an excellent representation of the film noir of the period although it was somewhat weakened by the studio's decision to use the original ending of the novella rather than the stronger, more compelling, ending of the novel itself.

Helen, a very young woman, finds herself seven months pregnant and abandoned by the father of her child. All that the father of her child has left her is a five dollar bill and train tickets from New York to the West Coast where she hopes to start a new life for herself and her baby. By the time that she is seen struggling to find a place for herself and her one suitcase on an overcrowded train, Helen is down to her last seventeen cents and is near despair. But fate has a surprise in store for Helen and the young couple who befriend her on the train, a surprise that offers Helen the chance to provide her child with the kind of life she never dreamed possible.

Does she have the nerve required to snatch that chance when she recognizes it? Is her love for her new baby so strong that she will do anything to ensure the child's future? By the time that Helen has to answer those questions for herself, she finds that circumstances completely beyond her control have made it possible for her to live a life she never dreamed possible if only she keeps her mouth shut. But of course, fate is not that kind, nor is life that simple. That's the rest of the story, a story that would have made Alfred Hitchcock smile, and one that I'm not going to spoil for you.

Cornell Woolrich deserves to be better known than he is today. He was a contemporary of Dashiell Hammett, James Cain and Raymond Chandler, all of whom have remained largely in print for the last 60 or 70 years. But despite the fact that during the period between 1940 and 1948 alone, Woolrich produced six novels under his own name, four as William Irish and one using the name George Hopley, his work is not easily found today. Woolrich has been called ”the Hitchcock of the written word" and, in fact, between 1938 and 1950 Hollywood producers turned some 15 of his stories into movies, the most famous of which is Hitchcock's own Rear Window, a film based on the 1942 Woolrich novella It Had to Be Murder.

So if you are a fan of Cain, Hammett and Chandler but have read all of their work, Cornell Woolrich is a name you need to remember. Finding his work will require some extra effort, but Woolrich is a worthy addition to anyone's American Noir collection.

Rated at 3.5 ( )
1 vote SamSattler | Jun 14, 2007 |
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