by Francis M. Nevins

   Whenever I visit a foreign-language website and click the mouse for an electronic translation, I am reconfirmed in my judgment that of all the Ed Woods of the written word whose genius for mangling the language has enriched my reading life for decades, my computer is second to none.

   May I give a for instance? Night and Fear, a collection of stories by Cornell Woolrich that I put together a few years ago to celebrate the centenary of his birth, was recently published in Italian by Feltrinelli Editore. Here’s what I learned about the book from various Italian websites, Englished by my trusty computer. “In order to from birth celebrate the one hundred years of the ‘father of noir’ the Cornell Woolrich, its biographer Francis M. Nevins has collected… fourteen storys escapes on reviews pulp.”

   Of “New York Blues,” the final tale in the collection, which “exited posthumous in 1970,” I was told that it’s “a splendid compendium, a epitaffio that it encloses in little pages all the reasons of the fiction of Woolrich: stilistico virtuosismo, evocativa force, dominion of the solitudine, struggimento for impossible loves, madness, desperation and dead women, that is all the colors of the buio.” Woolrich evokes “the tension of a city noir for excellence but in whose comparisons a visceral and unconditioned love can be nourished, nearly it blinds to you from its lights and the migliaia of dowels of solitudini that of it make the greatest agglomerate than history that the humanity could conceive….”

   Woolrich’s New York “is a blues warm alternated to a jazz isterico, is a place where however it wants courage to us, is for living that in order to kill, is a cigarette to the poison with which you play the life in one night whichever.”

   So that’s what Woolrich was all about! I was wondering.


   Flitting from the master of noir to his nearest rival, I recently stumbled across a factoid about David Goodis which seems not to have surfaced before. It’s long been believed that Warner Bros., to whom Goodis was under contract in the late 1940s, did nothing with the multiple screenplays he wrote and later adapted into his novel Of Missing Persons (1950).

   It turns out however that they did. Those screenplays were the source of “False Identity,” an episode of WB’s 60-minute TV series Bourbon Street Beat, which was aired on ABC during the 1959-60 season and starred Andrew Duggan and Richard Long as a pair of New Orleans private eyes. Air date was May 23, 1960. William J. Hole, Jr. directed from a teleplay by “W. Hermanos,” the house name used by just about everybody who wrote under the counter for WB during the then ongoing writers’ strike. Featured in the cast were Lisa Gaye, Irene Hervey and Tol Avery. How much authentic Goodis material survived the trip through the Warner Bros. TV sausage factory? I’d guess not a whole lot.


   Flitting from fiction to film, I’ve also recently discovered the existence of a previously unknown work by my old friend Joseph H. Lewis (1907-2000), who is best known of course as the director of noir classics like Gun Crazy. During the late Fifties and early Sixties when Joe directed 51 episodes of Four Star’s hit TV series The Rifleman over its five-year run, he also helmed a few segments of other Four Star shows like The Detectives, and also, as I learned a few weeks ago, an episode of the Dick Powell Theater (NBC, 1961-63), a 60-minute anthology series.

   “The Hook” (March 6, 1962) is about an investigator for the California Attorney General’s Office (Robert Loggia) who comes to suspect that the rule of a powerful underworld boss (Ray Danton) is about to be challenged by a former mob kingpin (Ed Begley) just released from prison. Finding out about this film was easy. The hard part begins when I try to track down a copy.


   Like everyone who went to school when I did, I had great gobs of poetry shoved down my throat in my English classes, but I never developed a fondness for it except for what I discovered on my own, like the hilarious verses of Ogden Nash. My first sale to Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine more than 35 years ago was a piece of criminous doggerel in the Nash manner, and every so often a poem has figured in one of my stories or novels — for example, the toad quotations from Shakespeare, Kipling and Karl Shapiro in “Toad Cop.”

   But those facts plus my having lived a block from Howard Nemerov between about 1980 and his death hardly qualify me as an authority on poetry. So it was rather odd that several months ago I was offered a princely fee by the Poetry Foundation, which has an endowment in the megamillions, to write an essay for its website on the links between poetry and crime fiction. That piece, along with Ed Park’s excellent discussion of poetry in the novels of Harry Stephen Keeler, is now a few clicks away from anyone with a computer at

   The final version of my brief essay discusses only Hammett, Chandler and Ross Macdonald. But that thing went through more drafts than one of the toads in “Toad Cop” has warts, and a slew of interesting interfaces between poetry and mystery fiction wound up on the electronic cutting-room floor. This is why I plan to turn the final item in several future columns into a sort of Poetry Corner.

   For space reasons I’ll keep my first specimen short and light. Fatal Descent (1939) was the only collaboration between two of the giants of the golden age of detective fiction, John Rhode and Carter Dickson (John Dickson Carr). Its plot seems to have been devised by both men but the writing is all Carr, a fact for which anyone who’s read Rhode’s dry-as-dust prose will thank whatever gods there be.

   Investigating the impossible murder of a publisher while alone in a descending elevator, Scotland Yard’s Inspector Hornbeam takes time out to read a newspaper account of a speech by one of the suspects entitled “A Peak in Darien.” The inspector is unversed (sorry, couldn’t resist) in poetic allusion. “What’s Darien?” he asks Dr. Horatio Glass. “I’m not sure,” that brilliant amateur sleuth replies. “It’s a place where you’re supposed to stand silent and look at the Pacific. Why are you interested in all that guff, anyway?”

   To the poetryphiles who read this column I promise that my next specimens will be more respectful.