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George Kelley Paperback & Pulp Fiction Collection

Deadline At Dawn

cover image By: Woolrich, Cornell (male)
Publisher: Graphic Publications (16)
Place of Publication: New York, NY
Catalog #: Kelley Box 272: PS3515 .O6455 D43 1949
Contributor: R. Brandt


Era: 1940s Author as on Cover: William Irish Geographic Locale: New York City Date of Publication: 1949  |  Original Date: 1944 Setting: urban; Manhattan Motives: robbery, murder, blackmail

Plot Summary

Bricky Coleman, a "chain-dancer," and Quinn Williams, an unemployed electrician's apprentice meet one night in a New York City dance hall shortly before closing time. After he walks her home, Bricky reluctantly invites Quinn into her apartment when she realizes that he thinks he is being followed. They discover that they are both from the same small town - Glen Falls, Iowa. Quinn also tells Bricky that he has just burglarized the home of a former customer, Stephen Graves, making off with $2,500. Quinn and Bricky decide to leave New York on the 6:00 a.m. bus and go back to Glen Falls after returning the money. When they re-enter the house, they find that Graves has been murdered. In order to escape from New York -- and stay out of jail -- they must locate Graves' murderer before dawn.

Major Characters

Ruth Coleman "Bricky," adult female, 22 years old, red hair, slim, taxi dancer

Quinn Williams adult male, 23 years old, clean-cut, electrician's apprentice

Griff adult male (age, physical characteristics and occupation not given)

Joan Bristol adult female, red hair, nightclub worker

Stephen Graves adult male, good looking, dark eyebrows, immaculately dressed

Arthur Holmes adult male, middle-aged, dark hair turning gray, rimless glasses, stockbroker

Helen Kirsch adult female, 20s, short, curly blonde hair, thin cheeks



Level of Violence

most of the violence is implied. Graves' murder takes place between the time that Quinn burglarizes his house and when he attempts to return the money. However, when Bricky confronts Joan Bristol about her role in the murder, Griff attacks her. He pulls a towel over her head and gags her with it. She is also tied up and left in a closet. Griff also strikes Joan when he thinks she has left evidence at the murder.


all of the sexual activity is implied and is very subtle. When Bricky tracks down Helen Kirsch, thinking that she was the woman who was with Graves, and confronts her about the murder, she confesses to cheating on her husband. Quinn and Bricky are obviously attracted to each other, but both view the other more as a savior than as a suitor. Bricky frequently refers to Quinn as "the boy next door."

Gender Roles

male: traditional, female: progressive. In order to find the real killer before dawn, both Quinn and Bricky are pressed into detective duty. From the physical evidence at the scene of the crime, they deduce that both a man and a woman had been with Graves before he died. Quinn follows the man's trail, while Bricky follows the woman. Both follow the wrong trail first, and the right one the second time around. Both, also, are captured by their quarry. Bricky, however, displays more resourcefulness in escaping.


none evident

Alcohol/Drug Abuse

Quinn is given a drugged cocktail by Arthur Holmes, when Holmes thinks that Quinn is going to blackmail him over a bad check he had given to Graves.

Law Enforcement

the police never actually show up, even though Quinn is convinced that they will track him down and arrest him at any moment, and Bricky is mistaken for a policewoman by Helen Kirsch.

Added Features

Woolrich often uses coincidence as a plot device, usually to cause destruction and misery to his characters. However, in Deadline at Dawn, the coincidence that Quinn and Bricky share the same hometown eventually acts to save them both.

Subject Headings

New York (N.Y.)/ Murder

Psychological Elements

Quinn feels an intense sense of guilt after he robs the Graves residence. His guilt makes him feel defenseless -- he does not know where to go or what to do; he is simply waiting for the police to catch up with him. His guilt, along with Bricky's willingness to return to Glen Falls with him, also motivates him to replace the money. Bricky's paranoia causes her to anthropomorphize New York City into a personal enemy out to destroy her. She even prays to the "Clock on the Paramount" to save her from the city.

Film Adaptations

Deadline at Dawn, RKO, 1946