Monday, February 8, 2016

Mystery Monday: Vera Caspary and Laura

The 1944 movie “Laura” was based on the book by the same name authored by Vera Caspary. The movie was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 1999. It was named one of the ten best mystery films of all time by the American Film Institute, and Roger Ebert included it in his “Great Movies” series.

However, according to Wikipedia, Vera didn’t consider herself a "real" mystery writer. She began her career as a copy editor in an advertising agency then eventually moved into journalism then playwriting.

 An article in The New Yorker claims that the writing of “Laura” was a kind of accident, done for money. The writer indicates Caspary did not like murder mysteries herself, and she saw in them a structural flaw. “The murderer, the most interesting character,” Caspary wrote, “has always to be on the periphery of action lest he give away the secret that can be revealed only in the final pages.” If she was going to write one, she decided she needed to do it differently.

And different it is.

Detective Mark McPherson investigates the murder of Madison Avenue advertising executive Laura Hunt in her fashionable apartment. The detective reads her diaries and letters, and interviews her friends, eventually becoming obsessed with the Laura. When she returns from a trip, the police realize the victim is one of the advertising agency models. This casts suspicion on Laura who denies any knowledge of the murder.

The film was nominated for five Academy awards, and won for “Best Black and White Cinematography.”

Vera continued to write publishing nearly twenty novels after “Laura.” A fascinating aside about Vera’s writing surrounds the claim she made in her memoir that she rewrote and resold the exact plot of her story Thicker than Water eight times over her career. Who says formulaic writing doesn’t work?

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