RARA-AVIS: LAURA by Vera Caspary 1942

From: Robison Michael R CNIN ( Robison_M@crane.navy.mil)
Date: 04 Dec 2002

The book begins with a police investigation of the recent death of a New York woman, murdered in her apartment by a shotgun blast in the face. The book is a psychological mystery and, rather than concentrating on thorough and intelligent examination of the evidence, the detective more or less talks his way through to the end, dining and drinking and chatting with the suspects, exploring nuances in personality and bouncing them off of alibis and motives.

Aside from discovering the murderer, the plot explores the disintegration of a woman's love for her fiance and the blossoming romance between her and the police detective. There is a dearth of clues, and when they do show up, they are inconsistent and contradictory. It is decided early on that the murder weapon is a sawed-off shotgun, and later a shotgun is discovered which is not sawed-off but is still considered as the potential murder weapon.

LAURA has been suggested as an early noir by a female author, but I didn't think there was enough sweat and desperation to award it the noir tag. The blurb on the cover called it a novel of suspense, but unless one sat on the edge of one's seat waiting to see what they ordered for dessert, there wasn't much of that, either. The book is not badly written and the characters are well-done, but if you are looking for hardboiled or noir, keep on looking.

Vera Caspary was born in Chicago in 1899 and was educated in public schools. After high school she took a secretarial course that graduated into her professional writing career. Her first novel, THE WHITE GIRL, was published in 1929 and achieved some success. A play she cowrote with actress Winifred Lenihan led to a job in Hollywood writing screenplays. An autobiographical novel, THICKER THAN WATER, came out in 1932.

Aside from short stories, stage plays, and screenplays, from 1946 to 1971 Caspary managed to write nine crime novels, with Laura in 1949 being her most notable. A common theme running through the novels contained a successful and independent career woman drawn to some loser guy. LAURA was made into a successful movie with Gene Tierney and Dana Andrews. I have heard that the movie is a classic Film Noir.

Caspary married producer Goldsmith in 1949. Due to her politics being less than emphatic, she was only greylisted during the McCarthy era, and still managed to work. She died in 1987.


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