Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Tuesday, January 10, 2023


 "The Room with Something Wrong" by Cornell Woolrich (first published in Detective Fiction Weekly, June 4, 1938 as "Mystery in Room 913"; reprinted under the same title in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, December 1949, and in The Evening Citizen, June 24, 1950; included under current title in Woolrich's collection under his "William Irish" penname Somebody on the Phone (a.p.a. Deadly Night Call), 1950; in Death Locked In:  An Anthology of Locked Room Stories, edited by Douglas G. Greene and Robert C. S. Adey, 1987; included in 13 Short Detective Novels, edited by Bill Pronzini and Hartion h. Greenberg, 1987; and is currently availabe in ebook format for the Kindle under its original title.

There is something wrong in Room 913 of the St. Anshlem hotel, at least Striker, the determined hotel detective, believes so.  Over the past two years, three people have fallen to their deaths onto the sidewalk below -- all supposed suicides.  All three were male and single; other than that they had nothing in common.  All three had left brief, handwritten notes.  In the first two instances, at least, the hotel room had been locked from the inside.

Room 913 was a small room with the bare amount of furniture.  Besides the door to the hotel room and the double French window directly opposite it, the room had two other doors -- one leading to a small closet on the right, the other to a small bathrrom on the left.  There was no other entry to the room.  A careful examination revealed nothing wrong with the electricity or wiring, nor with the plumbing.  There were no small holes or outlets that could allow anything in.  The furniture was examined closely and nothing was found out of the ordinary.  The floors and ceiling were tight.  To Eddie Courlander, the precinct dick who answered all three of the calls, each was an open and shut case -- a locked room with only the victim inside, an open window, a suicide note, nobody in the enighboring rooms heard anything suspicious, and no other marks on the bodies other than the injuries consistent with a great fall.  Each was a suicide, plain and simple.  A weird coincidence that all three jumped fro the same window, but just a coincidence.

Somehow Striker could not buy if.  Each of the men seemed cheerful just before they died.  And in the second case, he was sure that there had not been a suicide note when he searched the room before the police found the note under a pillow.  There was no logical reason to explain the deaths as murder, but Striker instinctively felt it was so.  Striker himself spent a night in the death room but nothing happened.  Would Striker have to just sit back and wait for another mysterious death, or could he do something about it to lure whoever the murderer may be to act?

Striker finds a man hard down on his luck and just able ready to make a date with the East River.  He offers the man a bath, a new set of clothes, a good meal, a warm bed, some money, and the promise of a job as a porter in the hotel if he would spend the night in Room 913.  He carefully told the man what had happened there and what he feared might happen.  He told the man he had a 50-50 chance to survive.  The man willingly agreed.  Striker would spoend the night at the hotel desk, manning the switchboard.  If anything were to happen the man need only knock over his phone and a signal would appear on the switchboard and Striker would rush to the room.

No signal appeared, but a passerby rushed into the hotel to report that a man had fallen to his death from the hotel.  Striker rushed to Room 913, used his passkey, and found the room empty and the window open.  The occupant had been killed.  There was a note.

Striker knew that murder had been committed.  The man he had hired was illiterate and could not even write his own name.  WhenStriker had left him, the man had almost fifty dollars on him; just four dollars and change was found in the room and nothing on the corpse.  Police still poo-pooed Striker's claims and the hotel manager, on discovering that Striker had arranged for the man to stay in the room, fired him.

I mentiuoned that striker was determined.  A year later, he returned to the hotel disguised, and took Room 913.  He had his gun, a knife, and a length of rope that he tied to the bed and around his waist.  And he waited...

An ingenious murder plot revealed.  Striker's life hanging literally by a thread.  An explanation fitting only for a pulp murder story...Woolrich ratchets up the tension almost unbearably and doesn't disappoint, as you would expect from the master who gave us Rear Window, The Bride Wore Black, and so many other dark masterpieces.

1 comment:

  1. I'm a huge Cornell Woolrich fan and his ability to generate suspense in a story (or novel) is almost unparalleled! Thanks for this excellent review!