Sunday, 28 October 2012

Eyes That Watch You by Cornell Woolrich (1939)

Four Novellas of Fear by
Cornell Woolrich, 2010
A J Cornell Publications
Mrs Janet Miller is a contented woman. She has everything she needs. So long as she has the feel of the warm sun on her body, the blue sky overhead, and the voice of her son Vern Miller in her ears, she is content.

In fact she is entirely paralyzed and unable to speak or sign or do any thing at all without Vera or Vern’s assistance, but as long as she has those few things, she’ll ask for nothing more.

Woolrich with his own best
girl, his mum.
Then she learns that her daughter-in-law Vera is planning, with her lover Jimmy Haggard, to murder Vern. And there’s not a damn thing Janet can do to prevent it. She’s so helpless that when Vera realises her plan has been overheard, she doesn’t even worry about it. What can Janet do, anyway?

As I can't find the exact cover, this one
comes close, just four months before -
check the bottom left corner.
The murder is one of the most ghoulish that I've encountered in fiction, matching the burying-alive of Marty in the Cohen brothers Blood Simple. Vera plans to take advantage of a faulty bathroom water heater to gas Vern. She will escape the effects of the gas by wearing a gas mask. And just so that people won’t become suspicious at too many corpses turning up overnight, Jimmy Haggard has brought two masks, so Janet will also be protected whether she wants it or not.

At this point our synopsis has progressed about as far as it can without becoming a spoiler and the only additional detail that needs be mentioned is that our cast list isn't quite complete. We still need to meet a wandering young man with the unlikely name of Casement. And straight away you know this guy ain't what he appears to be…

This story was originally published in Dime Detective September 1939 as The Case of the Talking Eyes. I can’t find the relevant cover, though this one at least advertises another of Woolrich’s stories (another little research job to do, hm?) I actually read the story in the collection Four Novellas of Fear, published 2010 by A J Cornell Publications.

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