VERA CASPARY – Laura. Houghton Mifflin, hardcover, 1943. Previously serialized in Colliers from October 17 to November 28, 1942 in seven parts as “Ring Twice for Laura.” Popular Library #284, paperback, 1950. Dell, paperback, 1957. Reprnted many times. Film: Twentieth Century Fox, 1944, starring Gene Tierney and Dana Andrews.

   This was by far the best of my vacation reads. It’s astoundingly good. There’s a good afterward in the “Femmes Fatales” series edition that I read written by A. B. Emrys. Emrys notes that Laura, like Caspary, worked in advertising as a copy writer. Emrys adds that “Caspary applied what she called ‘the Wilkie Collins method’ of multiple narrators, each of whom tells us about the others as well as revealing their own selves.”

   What’s interesting about the storytelling method is that each of the three narrators makes a written account. And each of the accounts is stylistically distinct. The novel reads like it was written by three different authors.

   The first ‘writer’ is Laura’s mentor, Waldo Lydecker. Lydecker is a prissy and affected pseudo-intellectual who writes a syndicated prissy, pseudo-intellectual column in the paper for prissy pseudo-intellectuals. He’s quite popular. And, of course, his section of the novel is written in a particularly prissy and affected manner.

   The next sections alternate between Laura and police detective Mark McPherson. McPherson writes his account in the terse manner of a police report. Laura writes her sections as diary — the diary of an advertising copy writer from the 40’s.

   Of course, all this stylistic mastery would be for naught if the story sucked. But the story is captivating. As the story begins, Lydecker and Laura’s fiancé, Shelby, are both stricken as Laura is found dead: shot in the face with a shotgun.

   As Detective McPherson investigates the case, he too falls in love with Laura. So much so that he purchases Laura’s painted portrait from the estate. McPherson is a very human detective — not at all hard boiled. Caspary later admitted that she shared Laura’s contempt for fictional detectives, who Laura claims invariably fall into two types: “the hard-boiled ones who are always drunk and talk out of the corners of their mouths and do it all by instinct; and the scientific kind who split hairs under a microscope”. Caspary wrote an article about McPherson as a different type of detective in Otto Penzler’s book The Great Detectives.

   And then the unthinkable: Laura turns up alive! But not until after her substitute’s body has been cremated. And without a body it’s nearly impossible to prosecute a murder!

   But McPherson isn’t going to give up that easily. He’s going to find the killer. He only hopes that the killer isn’t the dead woman he fell in love with.