Winton Pawprints 

Winton (c.1995-2012) was our beloved shop cat and still has the last word every month in her regular column.

Women Crime Writers

Gleebooks Bookshop - Wednesday, September 30, 2015

It's time to start thinking about Christmas gifts, and for the crime novel afficionado in your acquaintance I can't recommend more highly the two newly published Library of America collections: Women Crime Writers of the 1940s, and of the 1950s. I've waxed lyrical before about the LofA volumes—acid-free paper, sewn bindings allowing the books to lie flat, binding boards covered in closely woven rayon, a ribbon marker, and in the case of these two books, the publisher has stepped away from the usual glossy black covers banded with with red, white and blue, sporting an author photo, for a couple of eye-catching dust jackets.
The 40s volume presents chronologically by pub. date: Laura by Vera Caspary, The Horizontal Man by Helen Eustis, In A Lonely Place by Dorothy B. Hughes and The Blank Wall by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding. 50s carries Mischief by Charlotte Armstrong, The Blunderer by Patricia Highsmith (a non-Ripley outing), Beast in View by Margaret Millar and Fools' Gold by Dolores Hitchens. As with Library of America's previously published collections of American Noir of the 30s, 40s and 50s (all male authors except for the talented Ms Highsmith) these depression, WW2 and Cold War books all reek of their period—the fashion, the language, the politics, and of course the battle of the sexes. 'I couldn't help looking in the mirror and asking myself if I looked like the kind of sucker who trusts a woman' says detective Mark Macpherson in Vera Caspary's Laura.
It's impossible not to picture Dana Andrews' beyond taciturn 'dick' in love with a dead woman from Otto Preminger's stylish 1944 noir. I've just finished Caspary's Laura, and a comparison between print and celluloid has been one of its many pleasures. The novel is written in three voices, offering three versions of the murder of successful business gal Laura Hunt (get those working women back in the home where they belong!)—the charming hard boil of Mark Macpherson, the florid confessional of the 'dead' woman, and the marvellous, overblown blusterings of portly 'castrate' (his term), Waldo Lydecker. The Waldo of the book is not Clifton Webb's svelt and deliciously venomous closet queer typing in the tub, and doesn't get to say any of my favourite lines from the movie—for eg. I should be sincerely sorry to see my neighbour's children devoured by wolves or I don't use a pen. I write with a goose quill dipped in venom. But Caspary wrote the dramatisation, so film Waldo's declaration: In my case, self-absorption is completely justified. I have never discovered any other subject quite so worthy of my attention, completes her perfect portrait of the narcissist Anne Manne talks about in The Life of I—overt, oblivious, grandiose ... and, if thwarted, murderous!
Edited by crime writing expert, Sarah Weinman, the books have biographies of all the authors—who just about all had novels picked up by the movies, and most of whom spent some time earning a crust cranking out B grade fare for the Hollywood machine. There are also copious end notes explaining pop culture and historical references, and the idiom of the day. A great gift. Winton

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