2016: 2.-5. Women Crime Writers Vol. 1

The city that Sunday morning was quiet. ~ First Lines of Laura, Vera Caspery

Women Crime Writers: Four Suspense Novels of the 1940’s, Sarah Weinman, ed.

My gorgeous friend Nora send me this book (and a second volume, which covers the 1950s) which consists of four different mystery/suspense novels written by women in the 1940s.  They are pretty varied in subject and tone, and I really enjoyed reading them, so I thought I’d write a bit about each.  

Laura, Vera Caspary

This was the only four of the novels I’d read before.  You may have seen the classic Otto Preminger movie, which (and probably the most ridiculous thing I have ever said), I first saw in a tiny art cinema during my semester in Lyon, in English with tiny French subtitles. It was a rainy day, perfect for noir, and Gene Tierney is a gorgeous delight, so I have a super soft spot for this story.  And the film is pretty true to the novel, too.  The story involves a beautiful woman named Laura, who is brutally murdered.  The story is originally narrated by her friend Waldo, and later by the detective, who finds himself falling for the victim.  There are twists and turns, and I recommend you read it, then see the movie, both of which are a delight.

If I have a quibble (with both movie and novel) it is with the solution to the mystery itself.  Trying not to spoil, I’ll just say that it seems implausible that the killer would have killed for the reasons he did, given how his character is written.  Can’t say more without giving away the whole plot, but if you want to discuss in the comments, I am raring to go.

The Horizontal Man, Helen Eustis

This is the most fun of the four.  Set on an all woman’s college campus (probably Smith), it revolves around the murder of a brooding poetry professor. It’s snappily written, and I am particularly smitten with the combo of hard boiled reporter and even harder boiled co-ed, who helps him solve the crime.  The description of life in a girl’s college itself is interesting enough to make you want to read it.  Unfortunately, the solution to the mystery (while probably pretty interesting and advanced in the 1940’s) is pretty hokey and cliched to modern eyes.  But despite that I loved reading this one.

In a Lonely Place, Dorothy Hughes

Now, this is a whole ‘nother ball of wax.  It’s a taughtly written suspense story about a serial killer who living his life in L.A., interacting with normal people, but still continuing his crimes.  When he reconnects with an old friend who is now a police detective, the pressure increases, and trouble ensues… It’s less a mystery novel (we know whodunnit almost immediately) but more a suspenseful “will he be caught” tale, but its beautifully and starkly written - so much so that I, who tire of psychopaths pretty easily (looking at you Ruth Rendell), couldn’t put it down.  Very very good.

The Blank Wall, Elizabeth Sanxay Holding

A mother is living at home, her husband off to war, when her daughter gets entangled with the wrong man.  When that man turns up dead, she finds herself drawn into the coverup, and the subsequent crimes, while the whole time having to hold her life together, and project as the calm collected woman she has always been.  It’s psychologically gripping, and not really like much I’ve read before.  In addition, the background of the war  - both having to take of this herself without her husband, and dealing with the strictures of the time (rationing, etc.) makes the situation both more complicated and more interesting.

So, this is a grand collection, and I am so appreciative that the Library of America has brought these previously unknown novels and novelists to my attention.  I may have to do some digging and find more of their works, and I will definitely be reading the 1950’s collection ASAP.

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017