“In my case, self-absorption is completely justified. I have never discovered any other subject quite so worthy of my attention.”
Laura was written by Vera Caspary, who was also my Dad’s Grandfather’s wife. The story is less well known as a book, and more as a film by Otto Preminger, which was one of the first ever film noir. Actually, perhaps it isn’t well known at all these days, which is why I did a double take when I saw it stocked in Foyles in central London. Within minutes I was at the till, and I had finished reading it within hours and metres from that moment.
I don’t want to give too much of the plot away because it’s a first rate twister, but here’s a little flavour. A glamorous girl is found dead in her apartment, and it sure looks like murder. Mark, a hardboiled cliche of a detective, is called to the scene. He gives it a cynical once over. There ain’t much promising there, and he doubts the leads will amount to a hill of beans. The dead dame’s friend starts sniffing round the place too. He’s a fat thespish author who makes a living writing books about God knows what. Mark takes him to dinner to pump him for information, but doesn’t like the glint in his eye. The things he’ll do for for this damned job, he thinks but for some reason can’t get his mind off the dead girl. She sure was pretty. Sophisticated too from the look of her apartment. Mike begins to feel a strange connection with this once-elegant broad. He shakes his head vigorously, weird stuff like this just doesn’t happen to him. ‘Keep you eyes on the job Mike’ he tells himself. But then things take a turn for the down-right mysterious – and fast – when a girl knocks on the door of the apartment. It’s the last person Mike ever expected to see, and suddenly the case blows wide open. Mike looks at his watch with a sigh, ‘this’ll take some time’, he thinks dolefully ‘and just when the overtime sheet’s been suspended too.’
Is there any hidden wisdom in there? Not really. Some books are written to be thought about. Or to be written about. Others want to teach you about life, or else make some dull and obvious philosophical point. But some books are completely and unashamedly written to be read. Laura is one of those kind of books, and it’s glorious. I lost four hours to it. The time just went. I was sitting on a bench on the South Bank looking at little pleasure boats and the sunlight gleaming off the Thames. I opened Laura, and four hours later, I looked up. The book was finished, and I was bathed in a milky twilight. The time vanished as comprehensively as if I had been watching a film, or dreaming. I opened the book, got in, had a roller coaster of a ride, got off and took the tube home. And that’s exactly the kind of engagement the book wants: Laura is a good time girl.
Laura struck me as very similar to Hitchcock’s Vertigo - in both there is a similar theme of lust and obsession, and a detective-type character falls for a girl who he thought was dead. The intended victim and the murderer are very similar in both stories. The plots are different, but the structure of both films is nearly the same. They could almost double up for each other in an elaborate murder plot...
The Last Word
Since it was written by a relative, I felt almost a connection with Laura’s eponymous heroine from the beyond the page. It was like she was reaching out to me, and I couldn’t help thinking that Laura was not some dead-press character, but a real living person. Later I discovered that it was only her look-alike that was fictional, and that, in a staggering twist of metafiction, the real Laura was alive and living in Islington, safe from the ravaging occupational dangers of life in a detective story. Safe, but for how long?