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by Vera Caspary
Vintage Classics, December 2012
176 pages
7.99 GBP
ISBN: 0099572788

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

A woman's body is found murdered in a smart apartment in 1930's New York. The body is identified as Laura, a modern, rather mysterious young woman. Her friend and mentor begins to tell the tale when a high-powered detective is unexpectedly drafted onto the case. A list of suspects begins to emerge: the maid, the prospective bridegroom, the aunt, a rejected suitor, a work colleague, even the storyteller himself and then Laura reappears, alive and well, having been away for a few days at her property in the country. So who is the murdered woman and who is the culprit?

The novel is set in the posh area near Fifth Avenue, New York. Descriptions of houses and apartments clearly give a sense of good taste and money. This feeling is strengthened by the characters' interest in objets d'art. Beautiful ornaments and painting are frequently mentioned along with emotions such as envy and greed, although these manifest themselves in a very delicate manner. Clothes are made of silk rather than viscose! This interest in possessions provides an excuse for suspicion of others to be rife, allowing a number of clues to be inserted, often as blind alleys in the investigation.

The characters are beautifully drawn with a clever play between past and present and an interesting use of metaphors and similes. The quality of the writing is bolstered by careful observations of people's clothes and mannerisms, which also helps to build the pictures of the characters, as do the descriptions of the way in which one character makes another feel. The storyteller particularly is used as a tool for such reflection and in consequence there is a subtle change of tone as each new narrator takes over.

Despite the richness of the language and the reflective style, the story moves at a good pace and the culprit only becomes apparent in the final pages. Though the book was originally published in 1943 and has none of the feeling of speed of many modern novels of the genre, it is a captivating and enchanting read.

Sylvia Maughan is a retired university lecturer, based in Bristol.

Reviewed by Sylvia Maughan, March 2013

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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