Where to begin and how to choose? I did manage to whittle down all those piles to one that is much smaller and more manageable, though I fully expect books to be shifting back and forth all summer long. Knowing I am going to be reading mysteries is like having a bowl of ice cream after dinner every night. Deliciously decadent. Only books are much less fattening!
Although I am still keeping a short stack of books next to my bed--just in case--I decided to start with a book from Feminist Press's Femmes Fatales series. I was looking for a good romance (two books currently in progress) to read not long ago. Why not a "noir romance"? Have you ever heard of that term? I hadn't. Laura by Vera Caspary is a classic of the noir genre and was made into an Academy Award nominated film directed by Otto Preminger. I thought it was finally time to pick up a good vintage crime novel, but not a nice cozy. Something a little darker and edgier.
How about a novel whose main character is a beautiful, ambitious, successful woman who isn't even really present in the story, since from the opening pages you know she's been murdered! I've only just started reading, but Caspary has hooked me with her very elegant prose (you cannot beat really good writers from the 1940s--it seems that that era was oh so very stylish). The narrator is Waldo Lydecker, a writer and a cynic and certainly something of a snob. The setting is New York City and in the opening pages Lydecker is working on Laura's obituary when Mark McPherson, a young police detective comes knocking on his door. Just judging from their dialogue I can tell this is going to be an elegant and stylish story and written in prose that is perfectly fitting.
The story has Chandleresque overtones to it. I'll be curious to see if Caspary falls squarely into that hardboiled school of crime writing. Women have long been considered some of the best mystery and crime writers and just a taste of Caspary's writing and it is easy to see why. The story begins:
"The city that Sunday morning was quiet. Those millions of New Yorkers who, by need or preference, remain in town over a summer weekend had been crushed spiritless by humidity. Over the island hung a fog that smelled and felt like water in which too many sodawater glasses have been washed. Sitting at my desk, pen in hand, I treasured the sense that, among those millions, only I, Waldo Dydecker, was up and doing. The day just past, devoted to shock and misery, had stripped me of sorrow. Now I had gathered strength for the writing of Laura's epitaph. My grief at her sudden and violent death found consolation in the thought that my friend, had she lived to a ripe old age, would have passed into oblivion, whereas the violence of her passing and the genius of her admirer gave her a fair chance at immortality."
This is not the first taste I have had of Caspary's writing. Last year I read her short story "Sugar and Spice" and was suitably impressed and knew I would eventually get around to reading more of her work. And now is the moment. I think I might explore more of the Femmes Fatales titles (I have several on hand). I'll be finishing Carola Dunn's Rattle His Bones. I'm leaning towards either Fred Vargas or maybe a historical mystery by Cassandra Clark.
And a teaser of a different sort? How about this: I plan on splurging on this in September! I only wish I could get my hands on it now for my summer reading!