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Top mysteries challenge review: Laura by Vera Caspary

Year of publication: 1943
Genre: Mystery
Type of mystery: Murder
Type of investigator: Police
Setting & time: New York, USA; 1930’s
Place on the list(s): MWA #44

A young woman is found with her face blown away by a shotgun blast and is identified as the owner of the apartment where she was found. However, shortly afterwards the murder investigation takes a new turn when the real owner of the apartment turns up very much alive.

This is an interesting novel mostly for the way it is set up. The points of view shift to show how the main characters saw things, making it an interesting example of the use of one or more unreliable narrators. Other than that, it is a mediocre mystery, and more a study of how a strong, independent woman can arouse strong feelings and reactions in men.

The story is well put together, but the killer’s identity is glaringly obvious from early on and this does not, in my opinion make Laura a good mystery, only a study of stereotypes strung together with some fairly good writing and regrettably predictable plot elements.

The worst part is the big cliché, which can not be excused by saying that it was not a cliché when the book was written, because it was well-established by that time. It's one that annoys me no end, twinned with another cliché that also annoys me, which is why, although I think the stock plot elements and stock characters are well utilised, I can't give the book more than 2 stars. Just to be clear: I am not referring to the much-mentioned cliché ending that I detest, which we have been mercifully spared here, but something else I don't remember mentioning before.

I have a sneaky suspicion that the reason this book made it onto the MWA’s list is that it was the movie that the voters remembered and not the novel. I have this suspicion because Christie's Witness for the Prosecution is known to have made it onto the same list for a similar reason. It isn't really eligible because there never was a Christie novel of that title – the original is a short story and there has been a play and a movie (both of which end differently from the short story), but all three are fondly remembered and appreciated enough to make it onto the list. If the voters made one such mistake, why not two? The film version of Laura is a classic of its kind and from all my research seems to be considered superior to the book. I haven't been able to judge for myself yet, but if I get my hands on the movie, I will certainly watch it and possibly post an update.

Rating: 2 stars.

Books left in challenge: 97.
Awards and nominations: None that I know of.


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