That is in fact the plot of Woolrich’s devilish story. Louis Durand, the novel’s main character, marries a beautiful young woman who turns out to be not what he thinks she is. When she returns his love with cunning betrayal, he coldly sets about finding her to repay her unkindness at the point of a gun.
Alas, he is a sitting duck for her wiles. Desperate for her love, he forgives all when he finds her and liquidates his assets to indulge her whims for a free and easy life. Before long they are on the run from the law, leaving behind a body in a shallow grave. When the money runs out, rat poison figures unpleasantly in the final chapters, and the ending is deviously hellish.
Woolrich sets this dark tale in the 1880s, first in New Orleans and then along the Gulf Coast to Florida. The reader is lured into a world of gas-lit mystery and the masked license of Mardi Gras. Meanwhile, the story moves at a pace that is almost glacial. From the first sentence, with its mention of heaven, it is a slow-motion descent into corruption and decay—a case study in how loneliness and desire rot the soul.
|All Saints Day in New Orleans, 1885|
Most noir fiction takes a giggly delight in imagining a world with no moral center, but this one turns into a really bad dream you can’t wake from. It gives you the creeps long after you’ve put it down. Read as a morality tale, Waltz Into Darkness cautions against getting your heart’s desire, for love is three parts self-delusion, and nothing is ever what it seems.
Waltz Into Darkness is available at amazon, AbeBooks, and alibris. Forgotten books is the bright idea of Patti Abbott over at pattinase.
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons
Coming up: Decision at Sundown (1957)