Like his other books that I have read, RENDEZVOUS IN BLACK has classic elements, including patches of very good, very atmospheric writing, a fascinating story, and plot holes big enough to fly a fleet of 747s through–with space left over. The story starts with a girl being killed by a bottle a drunken hunter has thrown out of an airplane. I’m not quite sure how you do that, but maybe in 1941, flying low in an unpressurized small plane, you could just open the window and throw something out. It’s certainly one of the more bizarre ways to die. In any case, it’s not that important. The freak accident sends the boyfriend of the dead girl into a psychotic state, and in revenge he plots the deaths of the woman each man on the plane loves the most. Of course, he has to find out what plane it was, who was on it, etc. That part if a bit hard to believe, but there is a logic to it. What is impossible to believe, however, is how the killer anticipates the moves of his victims. This becomes clearer when the book is over and you start asking yourself, “How did he know he would go to the girl’s apartment to try to kill her?” Or a lot of other questions. The victims are divided into five “Rendezvous”, each of which is different from the others, which keeps the story from becoming tedious or predictable. There is a persistent but not too smart detective trying to catch the murderer as well, but since he has no idea who the killer is, it makes his job a bit hard. It becomes even harder when characters do inexplicably stupid things to thwart his plans to protect them. Or when, in the most diabolical act ever, the International Date Line works the opposite way it usually does to help the killer. Yep–or maybe Woolrich just didn’t know how it worked? And his editor didn’t know? And the publisher didn’t know? This one glaring error is so big that the book loses a full star just for that. When you cross the line going West, you jump forward a day–not backward.
Oh well; most of this was enjoyable. But it drags on about 30 pages too long and just sort of runs out of steam. The opening and closing passages are written in a flowery dreamlike prose that doesn’t quite work, but most of the book is very engaging and 150% nourish.
Oh–and the killer is named Johnny Marr and one of the hunters he seeks revenge upon is named Morrissey. That is the most frightening part of all! (And before you go to Wikipedia to look it up, Morrissey and Marr were the real last names of the Smiths’ two best known members.)