I frequently see Cornell Woolrich touted as essential, and by a wide variety of sources. But he's not much like the figures of the crime genre with whom he is often mentioned, Dashiell Hammett or Erle Stanley Gardner or Raymond Chandler. A devotee of F. Scott Fitzgerald, flirting with mainstream literary credibility in the early stages of his career, Woolrich's prose style often tends toward a leaden floridity that's easy to get bogged down in. But this novel, found in the first Robert Polito Library of America volume, has sent me scurrying back for a reconsideration. Woolrich became one of those mid-20th century writers so prolific that he resorted to publishing some of his work under pseudonyms to get it out more quickly. I Married a Dead Man, published originally as by William Irish, can be fairly characterized as a flavor of "woman's story," a big purple aching melodrama, at least as much as a crime story. It tells the story of Helen Georgesson, a city transplant, 19 and pregnant and abandoned by her cad boyfriend, who is returning by train to her hometown to have her baby and face the shame. On the train she meets a happy newlywed couple, recently eloped, Hugh and Patrice Hazzard. They had met while Hugh was in the service, and now they are on their way to visit his family, whom Patrice will be meeting for the first time. Hugh and Patrice are warm and friendly with Helen. Shortly before bed, as the sleepers are being turned down, Helen and Patrice have an intimate conversation in the bathroom. Patrice lets Helen try on her wedding ring, and then, suddenly: TRAIN WRECK! When Helen wakes up she finds herself in a hospital, her care paid for by the Hazzard family, who believe she is Patrice, widow of Hugh. Helen goes with the flow, adopts the identity of Patrice, and various complications ensue, including, eventually, the cad boyfriend showing up to blackmail her. It's not much of a crime, as crimes in crime fiction go, but it's a delicious complication of a situation, made more so by the wealth of the Hazzard family and the feelings that Helen begins to develop for them and for her new life with them, materially comfortable but emotionally precarious. The Fitzgerald influence is still clearly in evidence, with great swaths of pretty writing often but not always entirely under Woolrich's control. The pleasures of the thing are on every page, however, and it's easy enough to allow oneself simply to be swept up in the swirling tides and undercurrents of a surprisingly powerful story.