Friday 27 July 2018

Forgotten Book - Elizabeth X

Vera Caspary (1899-1987) is remembered today chiefly as the author of Laura, but that book launched her as a crime writer, and she continued to work in the genre for more than 35 years. Her very last novel was Elizabeth X, published in 1978, and it's relatively obscure. But it's well worth a look, especially for anyone who enjoyed Laura.

I don't say that because the stories are similar: they aren't. Laura is a murder mystery; Elizabeth X offers a puzzle of character and identity. An attractive young woman in her early twenties, apparently suffering from amnesia, is found wandering in the road by a married couple called Kate and Allan Royce. The Royces take her home and look after her, but attempts to discover her true identity prove surprisingly unsuccessful.

Where Elizabeth X does resemble Laura is in its structure. Again, Caspary employs the Wilkie Collins method of telling a story from several different first-person viewpoints, starting with that of Chauncey Greenleaf, a man much older than Elizabeth, who nevertheless founds himself strongly drawn to her. But is he destined for misery when the truth about her past emerges?

A plot development later in the story also betrays the Collins influence, though I won't say too much about it for fearing of spoiling the surprise. Collins was, at his best, a master of plotting, and I don't think even Caspary's admirers would make a similar claim for her. She is, though, very good at depicting character, and writing incisive, readable prose. I wanted to find out the truth about Elizabeth, even though I feared I might be slightly disappointed at the end of the book (as, to be honest, I was). But Caspary was an independently minded woman who always does an excellent job of portraying the pressures faced by equally strong-minded women, and Elizabeth X , the final example of her gifts, is definitely worth reading.


Todd Mason said...

For whatever reason, apparently only published in the US, at least, as THE SECRET OF ELIZABETH. Not giving the Yank audience sufficient credit?

Martin Edwards said...

Alternate US titles fascinate me, Todd. A classic contrast I just noted concerned Cyril Hare's In That Yew Tree's Shade. In the US it became Death Walks the Woods!