Laura by Vera Caspary

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Published in 1942, Laura has all the ingredients of a classic forties’ noir.

It has atmosphere in abundance: the majority of the action seems to take place during dramatic thunderstorms or torrential downpours.

It has a gripping central mystery with a beautiful ‘femme fatale’ at its heart. Laura Hunt, a New York advertising executive, is found shot dead on her own doorstep, her face obliterated by the blast.

It has a cynical detective with a well-hidden heart of gold (Detective Mark McPherson).

And it has the whip smart, wisecracking dialogue one has come to expect of the genre:

Bony hands gripped the table.

‘Let’s have another drink.’

I suggested Courvoisier.

‘You order. I can’t pronounce it.’ (Caspary, 1942)

These elements alone would make this novel a must read. But, for me, Laura has a little something extra and that’s a discussion of gender politics that is still relevant today.

In Laura Hunt, we have a heroine who struggles to balance a burgeoning career with her personal life. Described as having ‘a man’s job and a man’s worries’, Laura’s status rankles with her fiancé Shelby Carpenter in particular:

‘When I went to work for Rose, Rowe and Sanders, I made thirty-five dollars a week. She was getting a hundred and seventy-five.’ He hesitated, the colour of his cheeks brightened to the tones of an overripe peach. ‘Not that I resented her success. She was so clever that I was awed and respectful. And I wanted her to make as much as she could; believe that Mr McPherson. But it’s hard on a man’s pride. I was brought up to think of women … differently.’ (Caspary 1942)

That these themes still – sadly – resonate today makes this gripping, atmospheric thriller even more fascinating. Definitely one that should be more widely read.

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