I had avoided this novel for years. Although I had never seen the movie based on the book, I thought I knew the story, and assumed the story was spoiled for me. That was a mistake; even if I did know one or two main points of the story, there was much there to surprise me and I loved the way the story was told. Laura is a wonderful read and not to be missed.
In this novel, Laura Hunt, a successful career woman working for an advertising firm, has been murdered in her apartment. She was shot at close range with BB shot as she opened the door of her apartment to a visitor. Mark McPherson starts his investigation of the case by interviewing the two men who cared for her most, Waldo Lydecker, her friend and mentor, and Shelby J. Carpenter, her fiance.
For the most part, Laura is narrated in the first person by several different characters. The first section starts off with Waldo Lydecker's description of his meeting with Mark McPherson. Waldo is a middle-aged, overweight journalist who gave Laura her start in advertising. The second section is narrated by McPherson as he continues working the case. Another section is a "stenographic report of the statement made by Shelby J. Carpenter to Lieutenant McPherson."
I enjoy stories with alternating narrators, and Vera Caspary handles that aspect very well. Caspary also explores feminist themes. Laura has struggled with the conflicts of balancing a demanding career and a fulfilling love life. That is difficult for women today, but in the 1940's it was much more so.
How does this book reflect the year it was published? Actually the story was published first as a 7-part serial in 1942 titled Ring Twice for Laura. It was published in novel form the next year. While reading the book, I did not notice much evidence of the time. However, there is this reference to the war when McPherson looks for a newspaper article about Laura's death:
"There was nothing on Page One. A new battle on the Eastern Front and a speech by Churchill had pushed her off the front pages. I turned to Page Four. There was her picture..."
A year after the book was published, the film adaptation starring Dana Andrews as the detective and Gene Tierney as Laura was released. The problem with my viewing of the film is that I watched it too soon after reading the book. important characters in the book are written and portrayed much differently in the film, and I kept noticing those differences too much to fully enjoy the movie. In the film, Waldo Lydecker is portrayed as Laura's Pygmalion, teaching her about society and manners. In the book, this may be implied but not so strongly. Laura's aunt is also portrayed quite differently in the film. On the other hand, Vincent Price as Laura's fiance fit the role closely enough for me.
However, having said that, I do think the movie is very well done and very entertaining. It just does not convey the depth of the book at all. I won't say more than that because if you haven't seen the movie or read the book, I don't want to spoil the fun.
I confess that I bought another edition of Laura, published by The Feminist Press. It is a part of the Femmes Fatales: Women Write Pulp series, which restores to print the best of women’s writing in the classic pulp genres of the mid-20th century. This edition of Laura has a foreward titled "Women Write Pulp" and an afterward exploring Vera Caspary's life and fiction by A. B. Emrys. In my opinion, the essay at the end of the book is worth the price of admission.
Publisher: The Feminist Press, 2005 (orig. pub. 1943)
Length: 194 pages
Format: Trade paperback
Setting: New York
Source: I purchased my copies.