Originally appearing under the pseudonym William Irish, Night Has a Thousand Eyes is both a quintessential Woolrich novel and a departure from his other work. The novel contains the type of dark despair that haunts Woolrich’s most memorable characters. In this case, a young police officer encounters a woman on a ledge and convinces her not to commit suicide. Her fragile mental state is a result of her father’s pending death. His demise is not a result of sickness or violence, as we might expect in a Woolrich novel, but has been predicted by a man who can supposedly see the future.
The prediction shakes her father, because he has seen proof of the man’s ability in other instances. He owes several business successes to his predictions. In a classic Woolrich twist, his death is directly related to the prophecy itself. Would he die if he had not been predicted to die? According to Woolrich’s novel, it could not have happened any other way.
Woolrich’s work often contains a sense of entrapment. Night Has a Thousand Eyes takes that entrapment to the extreme. Things will end poorly, like they do in most of Woolrich’s novels for the tragic and the troubled. In this book, Woolrich asks if they could have ever ended any other way. Eileen says, “Anything you do, you have to do, and there’s no getting out of it” (Chapter 2). Statements like this are made by multiple characters throughout the book, as they come to realize they are the insect trapped under the down-turned glass that Woolrich used as a metaphor for his life. Nevins writes that “Of all his novels this is the one most completely dominated by death and fate, the one in which he pulls out all of the stops to make us feel the way he felt at age eleven when he understood his own inevitable death” (311). Woolrich is his characters as they rush to ends that they dread, but are powerless to stop.
The subject matter has a supernatural edge to it, which is something fairly unique among Woolrich’s novels, but he pulls up short of explicitly embracing a supernatural explanation. In the end, we share a sense of confusion with Woolrich’s detectives. We can’t really be sure of what just happened. That uncertainty becomes as troubling as death itself.