Monday, March 21, 2016

A Classic Novel from the Golden Age of Crime Fiction

This classic crime novel was first published in 1942, and in 1944, Otto Preminger made from it the equally classic film starring Gene Tierney and Dana Andrews and featuring a haunting title song composed by David Raskin. Only after the film's release did Johnny Mercer write the lyrics to the song, which quickly became a jazz standard.

It's a very atmospheric novel, set in New York City, that practically reads in black and white. At the center is Laura Hunt, a "modern" young woman, at least by the standards of 1942. She's thirty years old and unmarried with a career of her own. She has a fiance, but she's constantly pushing back the wedding date because she values her independence. Another, older, man is also in love with her, but to Laura, he's just a valued friend.

Much of this we learn in retrospect, because as the book opens, Laura's housekeeper comes to work one Saturday morning, opens the door, and finds Laura lying on the floor, dead from a shotgun blast. It's not a pretty sight. Assigned to investigate the murder is Mark McPherson of the NYPD. McPherson is entranced by the portrait of Laura that hangs in the living room of her home, and the more he learns about the victim, the more his feelings for her grow. Before long, he's investigating the murder by day and hanging around her home at night, inhaling the lingering scent of Laura's perfume.

As the above would suggest, this is clearly a book with deep psychological issues at its center. There are some amazing twists and turns as the book progresses, and there are very few other crime novels to which one might compare it. This is a riveting story that will appeal to all readers who love the classics in the field

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