Laura, by Vera Caspary, is a famous crime novel that became an even more famous film noir, as well as a stage play, and haunting song. The book was originally published in 1942, and it made an instant impact. Caspary was a talented mainstream writer, whose memoirs, The Secrets of Grown-Ups, make fascinating reading. She makes it clear that she wasn't really a mystery fan, but it's noteworthy that her favourite crime writer was Cornell Woolrich, her favourite crime novel Francis Iles' Before the Fact. Suspense appealed to her, in other words, and Laura is a novel of suspense as much as it is a detective story.
When, many years ago, I first saw the film, and read the book, I enjoyed them without fully appreciating them. That was because I paid too much attention to the plot, and although the story has one excellent plot twist, Caspary's strength didn't lie in plotting. On rereading the book after having done some research into Caspary's life, I got more out of it than I did the first time around.
Mark McPherson is called in to investigate the murder of Laura Hunt, a very attractive woman who works in advertising. She is engaged to be married, and her fiance becomes a suspect. McPherson becomes intrigued by Waldo Lydecker, a rather effete older man who was close to Laura, and who is one of the narrators.
In telling her story, Caspary borrowed the narrative device favoured by Wilkie Collins - using different points of view, so as to conceal as well as reveal. It's a device which, when employed with skill (and Caspary was highly skilled), I find engrossing. I've never written a "casebook" novel, but it's something I'd certainly consider at some future date, because the form has a great deal of potential for the crime writer. It's fair to say that Caspary never surpassed Laura, but her other books are also intriguing and well-written, and I'll talk about one or two of them in the future.