|Vera Caspary click for source|
Sunday, October 14, 2012
Crime Fiction Alphabet: Letter V
I have signed up for a second year of The Alphabet in Crime Fiction, a community meme sponsored by Mysteries in Paradise. Each week she'll be expecting participants to produce a post featuring a mystery/crime novel or novelist related to that week's letter.
We're closing in on the end of the alphabet--this week's entry brings us up to the Letter V. And my choice for V is Vera Caspary. Vera Caspary was an American writer of novels, plays, screenplays, and short stories. She is probably best remember for her book Laura which was made into a successful movie starring Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews, Clifton Webb, and Vincent Price. Including Laura, she wrote over 20 novels, 7 short stories, co-wrote 5 plays, and has credits for 27 films and TV shows. She made no claims as a mystery writer, but her stories often featured murder while focusing on women's quest for independence, identity, and love.
Laura is a classic story in misdirection. First you have a corpse that isn't quite what you think it is. And a dead woman who may not be quite as dead as you think. Is the "corpse" really the murderer? Or has someone else missed their target? Detective Mark McPherson spends his time interviewing suspects, looking through Laura's letters, and reading her diary in an attempt to understand this woman and who might have wanted to kill her. He'd like Laura's playboy boyfriend Carpenter to be the villain of the piece, but he's not sure he can make it fit.
I have also read Evvie and Murder at the Stork Club by Caspary (click titles for full reviews). Evvie is about the Roaring Twenties in Chicago. Short skirts and shingled hair. Free love and bathtub gin. A time when young women were testing new-found freedoms in love, at work, and at the voting booth. Meet Evvie and Louise. Two women who have been friends since they were girls. They have shared secrets, sleepovers, clothes, their ups and downs with men, a studio apartment...everything. Well, everything until Evvie falls in love. Suddenly, she's secretive. She won't tell Louise who the mystery man is. And Evvie feels an air of danger surrounding her friend. She suspects she knows the lover's identity and fears that Evvie has gotten herself mixed up with the wrong sort of man. And, when Evvie is found murdered on Labor Day weekend, it would seem that Louise's fears were justified. The newspapers cry scandal and dig up all the dirt on Evvie that they can....and no one, not even those who knew the women best, can believe that Louise really doesn't know who the mysterious lover is.
In Murder at the Stork Club (the famous early 20th C club in NYC) luminaries such as Walter Winchell, Dorothy Lamour, Tallulah Bankhead and Frank Sinatra (among others) all make cameo appearances in Caspary's story of a murder that seems to take place right in front of everyone who was anyone in the 1940s. The victim is a man named Henry Thoreau Pendleton-- a rich man who loves women and wine and when full of the latter will gladly tell stories of the ladies he had loved and lost. And he plans to write a tell all book that will....well...tell all. He dines with a mysterious lady in fur, goes home, and dies of poison. Did the mystery lady do him in to prevent him from telling about her? Or did someone else get to him between the club and home?