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Women writers have always had a central place in American crime writing, although one wouldn’t know it for all the attention focused on the men of the hardboiled school. This collection, the first of a two-volume omnibus, presents four classics of the 1940s overdue for fresh attention. Anticipating the “domestic suspense” novels of recent years, these four gripping tales e Women writers have always had a central place in American crime writing, although one wouldn’t know it for all the attention focused on the men of the hardboiled school. This collection, the first of a two-volume omnibus, presents four classics of the 1940s overdue for fresh attention. Anticipating the “domestic suspense” novels of recent years, these four gripping tales explore the terrors of the mind and of family life, of split personality and conflicted sexual identity. Vera Caspary’s Laura (1943) begins with the investigation into a young woman’s murder and blossoms into a complex study, told from multiple viewpoints, of the pressures confronted by a career woman seeking to lead an independent life. Source of the celebrated film by Otto Preminger, Caspary’s novel has depths and surprises of its own. As much a novel of manners as of mystery, it remains a superb evocation of a vanished Manhattan. Helen Eustis’s The Horizontal Man (1946) won an Edgar Award for best first novel and continues to fascinate as a singular mixture of detection, satire, and psychological portraiture. A poet on the faculty of an Ivy League school (modeled on Eustis’s alma mater, Smith College) is found murdered, setting off ripple effects of anxiety, suspicion, and panic in the hothouse atmosphere of an English department rife with talk of Freud and Kafka. With In a Lonely Place (1947), Dorothy B. Hughes created one of the first full-scale literary portraits of a serial murderer. The streets of Los Angeles become a setting for random killings, and Hughes ventures, with unblinking exactness, into the mind of the killer. In the process she conjures up a potent mood of postwar dread and lingering trauma. Raymond Chandler called Elisabeth Sanxay Holding “the top suspense writer of them all.” In The Blank Wall (1947) she constructs a ferociously taut drama around the plight of a wartime housewife forced beyond the limits of her sheltered domestic world in order to protect her family. The barely perceptible constraints of an ordinary suburban life become a course of obstacles that she must dodge with the determination of a spy or criminal. Psychologically subtle, socially observant, and breathlessly suspenseful, these four spellbinding novels recapture a crucial strain of American crime writing.


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Women writers have always had a central place in American crime writing, although one wouldn’t know it for all the attention focused on the men of the hardboiled school. This collection, the first of a two-volume omnibus, presents four classics of the 1940s overdue for fresh attention. Anticipating the “domestic suspense” novels of recent years, these four gripping tales e Women writers have always had a central place in American crime writing, although one wouldn’t know it for all the attention focused on the men of the hardboiled school. This collection, the first of a two-volume omnibus, presents four classics of the 1940s overdue for fresh attention. Anticipating the “domestic suspense” novels of recent years, these four gripping tales explore the terrors of the mind and of family life, of split personality and conflicted sexual identity. Vera Caspary’s Laura (1943) begins with the investigation into a young woman’s murder and blossoms into a complex study, told from multiple viewpoints, of the pressures confronted by a career woman seeking to lead an independent life. Source of the celebrated film by Otto Preminger, Caspary’s novel has depths and surprises of its own. As much a novel of manners as of mystery, it remains a superb evocation of a vanished Manhattan. Helen Eustis’s The Horizontal Man (1946) won an Edgar Award for best first novel and continues to fascinate as a singular mixture of detection, satire, and psychological portraiture. A poet on the faculty of an Ivy League school (modeled on Eustis’s alma mater, Smith College) is found murdered, setting off ripple effects of anxiety, suspicion, and panic in the hothouse atmosphere of an English department rife with talk of Freud and Kafka. With In a Lonely Place (1947), Dorothy B. Hughes created one of the first full-scale literary portraits of a serial murderer. The streets of Los Angeles become a setting for random killings, and Hughes ventures, with unblinking exactness, into the mind of the killer. In the process she conjures up a potent mood of postwar dread and lingering trauma. Raymond Chandler called Elisabeth Sanxay Holding “the top suspense writer of them all.” In The Blank Wall (1947) she constructs a ferociously taut drama around the plight of a wartime housewife forced beyond the limits of her sheltered domestic world in order to protect her family. The barely perceptible constraints of an ordinary suburban life become a course of obstacles that she must dodge with the determination of a spy or criminal. Psychologically subtle, socially observant, and breathlessly suspenseful, these four spellbinding novels recapture a crucial strain of American crime writing.

30 review for Women Crime Writers: Four Suspense Novels of the 1940s: Laura / The Horizontal Man / In a Lonely Place / The Blank Wall

  1. 5 out of 5

    robin friedman

    Women Crime Writers in The Library Of America -- The 1940s The Library of America has published many volumes of American noir and crime writing. It has recently published a two-volume anthology, "Women Crime Writers", consisting of four suspense novels from the 1940s and four from the 1950s by eight different women authors. I am reviewing the first volume, which consists of the four 1940s novels here. Sarah Weinman, a scholar of crime fiction selected the contents and edited the volume. Weinman h Women Crime Writers in The Library Of America -- The 1940s The Library of America has published many volumes of American noir and crime writing. It has recently published a two-volume anthology, "Women Crime Writers", consisting of four suspense novels from the 1940s and four from the 1950s by eight different women authors. I am reviewing the first volume, which consists of the four 1940s novels here. Sarah Weinman, a scholar of crime fiction selected the contents and edited the volume. Weinman has edited an earlier volume of suspense stories by women authors, "Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives: Stories from the Trailblazers of Domestic Suspense". This collection is entertaining, absorbing, and a pleasure to read. Even those readers familiar with suspense fiction are unlikely to know all of the novels included here. The themes and settings of the works resist easy generalization. As with most good suspense writing, the themes and character development in these books go beyond genre. The works are written by women authors, but it would be a mistake to reduce their content to what today is described as women's issues. Of the four books, two, Vera Caspary's "Laura" and Elisabeth Holding's "The Blank Wall" are set in New York City or its environs. Helen Eustis' "The Horizontal Man" is set in an exclusive northeast women's college. "In a Lonely Place" by Dorothy Hughes is set in Los Angeles and its suburbs. The impact of WW II on American life is an important theme in two of the novels. Hughes' "In a Lonely Place" is a story of a serial killer who served as a fighter pilot during the war. His wartime friend has become a Los Angeles detective and eventually brings down his former friend for the murders he committed. The novel masterfully develops from the inside the mind and heart of the serial killer. Holdings' "The Blank Wall" has more domestic themes. A middle-aged woman whose husband is overseas in the navy becomes involved in a series of crimes and in a romantic affair which bring excitement to while shaking the foundations of an outwardly routine life. In a quieter way than Hughes' novel, Holding develops the complexities of the life and dreams of its main character. The remaining two novels also show a great deal about American life in the 1940s without the emphasis on WW II. Caspary's "Laura" shows the fast-paced world of middle and upper class New York City. The book became the basis for a famous movie directed by Otto Preminger and an even more famous song. The title character is a successful advertising executive who has risen in her profession by determination and talent. Although she has many friends and suitors in a busy life, she is also lonely and looking for love. Caspary's book describes the complexities of her character in a book narrated by three participants in the story. Eustis' novel, "The Horizontal Man" portrays university life in the 1940s with observations about character and love that are at least as important to the book as the murder of a young English professor which drives the story. The characters of the novel include a young student with a crush on the victim who, under emotional stress, confesses to the killing, an ambitious reporter who befriends an intellectual, apparently no-nonsense student, and two professors who were friends and colleagues of the victim. The tenor of the book is psychological and Freudian with many literary allusions. The four novels also see women in different ways which resist reduction or contemporary stereotyping. Laura is a successful woman in a field and time when this was uncommon who seeks love. Lucia Holley in "The Blank Wall" is a housewife outwardly contented in her role but in search of meaning, risk and adventure. "In a Lonely Place" focuses on the serial killer, but two highly intelligent women, the detective's wife, Sylvia, and the killer's lady friend, Laura, are pivotal in bringing him down. "The Horizontal Man" develops several different women characters, including Molly, the student enamored of the victim, the sensual femme fatale Mrs. Cramm, an intellectual young woman who becomes involved in the investigation of the crime, and more. In short, although each book is written by a different woman, no clear women's theme emerges from the anthology. Each of these books is important and well-written in its own right. Together they make an outstanding collection of little-known suspense novels by women from the 1940s. Each individual title is separately available, but it is valuable to have the books preserved, accessible and honored by the LOA. The volume includes short biographies of each of the four authors together with Weinman's notes on the text which center on allusions to 1940's America that many readers will find unfamiliar. The LOA has an extensive website on the two-volume anthology which includes further information about the set, the books, and the authors, including rare cover art. The LOA kindly provided me with this box set for review. I am looking forward to reading the 1950s volume. Robin Friedman

  2. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

    5 stars for 2 of the four novels: In a Lonely Place by Dorothy B. Hughes is a noir masterpiece --an extraordinary rendering of tension and suspense in L.A. , and Elisabeth's Sanxay Holding's The Blank Wall offers a continually surprising turn of events for a wartime housewife and mother. The other two are good reads as well but less plausible and less masterful in the use of tension and suspense, more social dramas. 5 stars for 2 of the four novels: In a Lonely Place by Dorothy B. Hughes is a noir masterpiece --an extraordinary rendering of tension and suspense in L.A. , and Elisabeth's Sanxay Holding's The Blank Wall offers a continually surprising turn of events for a wartime housewife and mother. The other two are good reads as well but less plausible and less masterful in the use of tension and suspense, more social dramas.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Peter

    Perhaps not quite as good as the companion volume of 1950s stories, but all in all a satisfying read. The Horizontal Man is, to my mind, the weakest of the four stories here and the reason I give this volume three stars instead of four.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Zoë Dean

    I read the two-volume Women Crime Writers: Eight Suspense Novels of the 1940s & 50s: A Library of America Boxed Set set continuously over about two weeks, which means everyone around me probably got tired of hearing me explain the virtues of the set: that nearly all of the authors had fallen out of print over the years, that it was an important task for canon-formation to bring these books to everyone's attention once more, that Weinman had previously edited a collection of similar-era domestic I read the two-volume Women Crime Writers: Eight Suspense Novels of the 1940s & 50s: A Library of America Boxed Set set continuously over about two weeks, which means everyone around me probably got tired of hearing me explain the virtues of the set: that nearly all of the authors had fallen out of print over the years, that it was an important task for canon-formation to bring these books to everyone's attention once more, that Weinman had previously edited a collection of similar-era domestic suspense short fiction by some of the same authors that was also great (Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives: Stories from the Trailblazers of Domestic Suspense). Also that, more importantly, the books are terrific. Weinman eases you in with Vera Caspary's Laura, which noir buffs are probably already acquainted with from the film. The book is sleek, smart, and playful, its story revealed and its characters masked and unmasked through a revolving door of narrators with their own motivations, biases, and outright lies. It centers around a successful and vibrant woman, Laura Hunt, whose body, face ruined by a shotgun blast, has been found in her apartment. She has a clever, petty mentor with excellent taste; a good-looking fool of a fiancé; one or two checkered rivals; and an investigating detective who is falling under the spell of her history. The liveliness of Caspary's writing, plus the glossy sheen she uses to disguise her discussion of some very sordid topics (for more discussion of this, I recommend the Out of the Past noir podcast and its discussion of the film), make this a great introduction to the collection. Next is Helen Eustis's The Horizontal Man, a nervous and jittery concoction of Freud and unsatisfied longing set on a college campus and revolving around a handsome murdered poet. Where Laura is smooth, Eustis is jagged, and consequently the damage of her characters shows through more clearly and is the focus of the story. More than anything else, this novel offers the pleasure of the well-constructed and busy community, with a huge cast of vivid characters bobbing in and out of the action and colliding in unexpected ways and wanting very different things. Some of the psychology has not held true and some of the twists of it have been over-used, but that doesn't matter much, because the people are still real and recognizable: snarky, heroic, pathetic, and erotic, and working their way towards the truth of the mystery and of themselves. Dorothy B. Hughes's In a Lonely Place: if this were the only worthwhile novel in the whole collection, the collection would still be worth buying. This, like The Talented Mr. Ripley and The Killer Inside Me, is a bravura look at a killer from the inside-out. Dix Steele is compulsive, lonely, unhappy, and vindictive. He seethes with resentment that can turn on a dime towards either melancholy or outright violence. It's Hughes's great achievement that he's both sympathetic and horrifying, and it's a further achievement that she doesn't forget to populate her story with people with goodness, perception, and strength that's equally well-realized: sometimes dark novels are just as unrealistic as chipper ones, but Hughes understands the world in full. The ending, too, is a kicker, with considerable staying power. Finally, in this first volume, there's Elisabeth Sanxay Holding's The Blank Wall, about a woman holding together her family while her husband is away in the war. At first, she's just dealing with her son's polite condescension and her daughter's more combative contempt, but soon there's a dead body, blackmail, and gangsters. It could be the stuff of satire, but the novel never abandons nuance, and instead, it's deeply involving and even moving to watch Lucia gain strength and insight even as her situation tightens in around her like a noose. It's also about the struggle to make good choices in bad times, and whether the truth is worth the risk of consequences, and mother-daughter relationships, and reformation and romance. In a Lonely Place is more perfect, but this ended up being my favorite novel of the collection. This is a terrific novel collection, and the empathy, intelligence, and power of all the writing is striking. Highly recommended. (On to the 1950s volume.)

  5. 5 out of 5

    Agnes DiPietrantonio

    Excellent collection. Laura is just as good as the classic film. The Horizontal Man starts out well enough but ends up feeling like a Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland romp. In a Lonely Place was downright creepy. The Blank Wall was probably the best of the lot. Well done collection

  6. 5 out of 5

    Mary

    Fantastic collection!

  7. 4 out of 5

    Michele

    The subtitle of this collection is more accurate than its main title, because the stories are all much more about suspense than about crime (although there are crimes in them). I can't say much without spoiling the stories, all of which have their surprises, but I will say that they are all excellent -- "In a Lonely Place" is one of the creepiest things I have ever read, right up there with JCO's Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?, and "The Blank Wall" is downright gut-wrenching. Highly r The subtitle of this collection is more accurate than its main title, because the stories are all much more about suspense than about crime (although there are crimes in them). I can't say much without spoiling the stories, all of which have their surprises, but I will say that they are all excellent -- "In a Lonely Place" is one of the creepiest things I have ever read, right up there with JCO's Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?, and "The Blank Wall" is downright gut-wrenching. Highly recommended.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Maureen M

    Given that most of the famous crime writers of the 1940s are men, it was fun to see what women crime writers were doing then. The American Library Association made that possible with the publication of four novellas. My favorite turned out to be the best known, "Laura," by Vera Caspary, which became a movie. All of the stories have something to offer, and the back gives a brief biography of each that shows how accomplished they were, if no well known. Given that most of the famous crime writers of the 1940s are men, it was fun to see what women crime writers were doing then. The American Library Association made that possible with the publication of four novellas. My favorite turned out to be the best known, "Laura," by Vera Caspary, which became a movie. All of the stories have something to offer, and the back gives a brief biography of each that shows how accomplished they were, if no well known.

  9. 4 out of 5

    J

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Four fantastic novels that are groundbreaking in various ways and entertaining in all ways. The two that surprised me the most were by writers I'd never even heard of. The second novel, The Horizontal Man, by Helen Eustis manages to pre-date Robert Bloch's Psycho by something like 15 years and has nearly an identical resolution. It's so close a fit that if I were Eustis, I'd have felt an awful lot like I'd been ripped off. The novel is at turns a funny satire of campus life and mores while also Four fantastic novels that are groundbreaking in various ways and entertaining in all ways. The two that surprised me the most were by writers I'd never even heard of. The second novel, The Horizontal Man, by Helen Eustis manages to pre-date Robert Bloch's Psycho by something like 15 years and has nearly an identical resolution. It's so close a fit that if I were Eustis, I'd have felt an awful lot like I'd been ripped off. The novel is at turns a funny satire of campus life and mores while also featuring a detective story, a mystery, and a psychological novel. There's more going on in this one little book than you'd guess. The fourth in the collection, The Blank Wall, by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding, likewise is a crime novel set against the backdrop of a wife and mother holding home together while her husband is off to war and her daughter falls in among some sharpies. We get blackmail, murder, threats, extortion, all while our protagonist is trying to not drive her car so as to conserve gas and tire rubber for the war effort, shopping with her ration book, and even a little bit of racial sympathy for the family maid and her backstory almost wholly absent from novels of the time written by white authors. The first novel should be all too familiar for fans of noir novels and films both (Vera Caspary's Laura, which pulls a neat triple narration going on while the third novel, Dorothy B. Hughes In a Lonely Place is another noir classic made into a well-regarded film with Humphrey Bogart playing the tormented killer protagonist. These two are classics for a reason, but the two companion novel in the volume, and their authors, are deserving of your attention just as much. I have a feeling I'll be doing some library stacks digging to find some more great stories like these.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Priscilla Paton

    I read Dorothy Hughes's IN A LONELY PLACE (1947) in this collection, and this psychological thriller is intensely noir. The story twists through the mind of Dickson “Dix” Steele, a former pilot who misses the war and most of all the sensation of “flying wild.” When he finds himself in a fine Los Angeles apartment (of dubious acquisition), he runs into a wartime friend who has become an L.A. detective. Dix clings to this friendship as a form of normalcy while women Dix glimpses in the night are f I read Dorothy Hughes's IN A LONELY PLACE (1947) in this collection, and this psychological thriller is intensely noir. The story twists through the mind of Dickson “Dix” Steele, a former pilot who misses the war and most of all the sensation of “flying wild.” When he finds himself in a fine Los Angeles apartment (of dubious acquisition), he runs into a wartime friend who has become an L.A. detective. Dix clings to this friendship as a form of normalcy while women Dix glimpses in the night are found dead in the morning. Dix, often in an internal rampage, tries to control what others think of him while convincing himself he's falling in love with a gorgeous neighbor. The writing is taut, the seaside fog atmospheric, and some women are smarter than they appear. This novel paves the way for Patricia Highsmith’s THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY. Note: this novel underwent plot changes when it was turned into a film starring Gloria Grahame and Humphrey Bogart.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Megan

    This book is one of a two-volume set, which I of course read out of order. The volume that I read first, of authors from the 50s, I liked much better than this one. For this one, I really enjoyed the first story, and then appreciated, but didn't always love, the remaining three stories. I will say this, though, all four of the authors successfully created very complicated characters, in a way that you don't always see. I think that maybe this is why I didn't enjoy this as much. I often felt symp This book is one of a two-volume set, which I of course read out of order. The volume that I read first, of authors from the 50s, I liked much better than this one. For this one, I really enjoyed the first story, and then appreciated, but didn't always love, the remaining three stories. I will say this, though, all four of the authors successfully created very complicated characters, in a way that you don't always see. I think that maybe this is why I didn't enjoy this as much. I often felt sympathy for the characters, but at the same time was deeply frustrated by them, and was actually kinda hate-reading by the end of the last story. That said, there was no way I was putting this book down, and I certainly recommend if vintage murder mysteries are your cup of tea.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Groucho42

    As title says, four novels: - Larua, Vera Caspary - The Horizontal Man, Helen Eustas - In a Lonely Place, Dorothy B. Hughes - The Blank Wall, Elizsabeth Sanxay Holding In Laura, a woman is found dead and the story is told from multiple perspectives. Interesting take on how people see things but, no surprise, a dated style. The Horizontal Man is a murder at a women's college, again told from multiple perspectives. Tries for humor and maybe it was far funnier in it's time. In a Lonely Place is told from As title says, four novels: - Larua, Vera Caspary - The Horizontal Man, Helen Eustas - In a Lonely Place, Dorothy B. Hughes - The Blank Wall, Elizsabeth Sanxay Holding In Laura, a woman is found dead and the story is told from multiple perspectives. Interesting take on how people see things but, no surprise, a dated style. The Horizontal Man is a murder at a women's college, again told from multiple perspectives. Tries for humor and maybe it was far funnier in it's time. In a Lonely Place is told from the view of a serial killer. During it, I finally lost interest in the time and style, then returned the book to the library. The collection is a nice period piece, it just depends on if you care about the period and the topics. I didn't.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Banuta

    This is a great collection, even if I couldn't handle the first one by Vera Caspary, and I'd already read and admired In a Lonely Place. The Horizontal Man by Helen Eustis also felt like a discovery, though there's some fat-shaming, the plump girl wins, and there's an unusually open attitude towards homosexuality, even if it gets a bit weird at the end. I also really enjoyed The Blank Wall because it was so very much from a woman's perspective; cleaning up a murder in order to protect your famil This is a great collection, even if I couldn't handle the first one by Vera Caspary, and I'd already read and admired In a Lonely Place. The Horizontal Man by Helen Eustis also felt like a discovery, though there's some fat-shaming, the plump girl wins, and there's an unusually open attitude towards homosexuality, even if it gets a bit weird at the end. I also really enjoyed The Blank Wall because it was so very much from a woman's perspective; cleaning up a murder in order to protect your family, worrying about what to serve for dinner, dealing with a slew of household chores. And whimsy, which was also good. Some of these writers seem to be out of print apart from collections.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Bonnie

    I read Laura, the first novel in the collection. I can see why it is a classic. The novel is in parts, and each part is written from a different character's perspective. The author does a good job of varying the writing style and voice. Makes me want to check out the film. If you're interested in 1940s and film noir type stuff, I think you would like it. I had to return the book to the library because someone else had it on hold, but I might check it out again and come back to the others when I a I read Laura, the first novel in the collection. I can see why it is a classic. The novel is in parts, and each part is written from a different character's perspective. The author does a good job of varying the writing style and voice. Makes me want to check out the film. If you're interested in 1940s and film noir type stuff, I think you would like it. I had to return the book to the library because someone else had it on hold, but I might check it out again and come back to the others when I am in the mood.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Kathy

    Wow-- I never realized that these women existed: masters of the genre! Several of the stories are whodunits and several reveal the culprit in the beginning and the story is in the chase. In a Lonely Place was the best of the bunch if you have to pick one. I'm looking forward to reading the 1950s/60s volume which includes Patricia Highsmith. Wow-- I never realized that these women existed: masters of the genre! Several of the stories are whodunits and several reveal the culprit in the beginning and the story is in the chase. In a Lonely Place was the best of the bunch if you have to pick one. I'm looking forward to reading the 1950s/60s volume which includes Patricia Highsmith.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Cokie

    Wonderful mysteries from undeservedly forgotten authors. "In a Lonely Place" and "The Blank Wall" are especially good. Wonderful mysteries from undeservedly forgotten authors. "In a Lonely Place" and "The Blank Wall" are especially good.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Nicole

    Enjoyed Laura and In a Lonely Place; was indifferent to The Blank Wall; and actively disliked The Horizontal Man.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Zoë

    Laura: 1/5 stars The Horizontal Man: 5/5 stars In a Lonely Place: 2/5 stars The Blank Wall: 3/5 stars

  19. 4 out of 5

    Lori

    I only read The Blank Wall - and it was great! I hope to read the other 3 stories in this set.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Mary Jo

    A fun way to be exposed to several famous noir novels that were made into classic movies.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca Stratosphere

    Four excellent novels!

  22. 4 out of 5

    Nikki

    Such a great collection of books - enjoyed reading them all. In A Lonely Place is the best of the four.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Candace Smith-Lee

    Wow all 4 stories were so interesting. Great characters, scenes, settings & a glimpse into other lives.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Lynn

    The Blank Wall - 5 stars Laura - 5 stars The Horizontal Man - 4 stars In a Lonely Place - 4 stars

  25. 5 out of 5

    Scarllet ✦ iamlitandwit

    Laura - 4 stars The Horizontal Man - 3.5 stars In a Lonely Place - 4 stars The Blank Wall - 3.5 stars

  26. 4 out of 5

    Rita

    These were four thoroughly enjoyable mysteries from women authors of the 40s. What is interesting to me, is that they wrote in a sexist manner; like a man would! I suppose they wouldn't have been published if they didn't, but . . . For example, they all used the tiresome"the man" and "the girl," as if every woman character is a 12-year-old girl. These were four thoroughly enjoyable mysteries from women authors of the 40s. What is interesting to me, is that they wrote in a sexist manner; like a man would! I suppose they wouldn't have been published if they didn't, but . . . For example, they all used the tiresome"the man" and "the girl," as if every woman character is a 12-year-old girl.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Alessandra Trindle

    I picked up Women Crime Writers: Four Suspense Novels of the 1940s on a whim. The $35 price tag seemed a bit steep, but for four stand alone novels in one compilation, I could justify it. Also, happy holidays to me. The only story I was even familiar with was Laura by Vera Caspary, which is a famous movie with Gene Tierney. <--That was the sum total of my knowledge before reading the story. The other stories were The Horizontal Man by Helen Eustis, In A Lonely Place by Dorothy B. Hughes, and The I picked up Women Crime Writers: Four Suspense Novels of the 1940s on a whim. The $35 price tag seemed a bit steep, but for four stand alone novels in one compilation, I could justify it. Also, happy holidays to me. The only story I was even familiar with was Laura by Vera Caspary, which is a famous movie with Gene Tierney. <--That was the sum total of my knowledge before reading the story. The other stories were The Horizontal Man by Helen Eustis, In A Lonely Place by Dorothy B. Hughes, and The Blank Wall by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding. Laura is the first novel, and it starts out exactly like how you'd expect a murder mystery in the 1940s. There's the loner detective, the gay best friend, the dead woman, the dead woman's feckless fiance, and such. Each major character gets to narrate. There is a twist (which many of you may know), but even with that surprise, the story was tight and compelling. The Horizontal Man is fussy, purposely so. A young, popular college professor is killed. Who has done it? Aside from the casual misogyny directed toward a college for women only, there are a number of interesting female characters. There's a freshman, who takes the blame for the murder. There's the college newspaper editor, who is determined to solve the case. There's the sorority girl, who is completely self-involved and unwittingly holds the key to the truth. There's a tough-as-nails divorcee, who is seen as a campus man-eater. Those people aside, there are strong themes in regard to sexuality and mental illness. As in Laura, repressed sexual desires play a key role in figuring out who the killer really is. In a Lonely Place is stunning. Told in first person by the murderer (who is a serial rapist and killer), the narration is taut. I could not put the story down because the tension built so slowly and unrelentingly that I was afraid for every character, who came into contact with the narrator. This story was also chilling for its very clear portrayal of a white man, who is feeling the foundations of his privilege crack. It doesn't help that he's a sadist, a narcissist, and a psychopath, but the sense is that as a former Colonel in the military and now home post-war, he's adrift. Killing is both a way to maintain control and to relive some of his former glory. This story is notable because the detective doesn't solve it, but his wife and another woman do. The Blank Wall is a cipher. The narrator isn't the killer. She's just a woman with two children to care for and a husband, who is off in the Asia Pacific fighting the war. She's in her mid-thirties. She's perfectly ordinary. She's not a particularly good housekeeper (though she has a wonderful live-in maid for that). And when a very bad man is accidentally killed in her boathouse by her unwitting father (note to self, if you push a bad guy off a boat dock, make sure there are no boats in the immediate vicinity), she decides that the only thing she can do is hide the body. From this act stems a blackmail attempt and another murder in addition to all the trouble of trying to maintain a household in war-ravaged 1944. The narrator is just so tired. She's taking care of her father, she's taking care of her children, she's hiding bodies so other people aren't blamed for murder, she's arguing with the butcher about whether or not she has enough ration stamps to buy beef. Seeing as how I'm a middle aged mother and wife (though not one who has to bury any bodies...yet), I could sympathize with her struggles, though I also wanted to slap her into some sense. However, if the point is that women are incredibly resourceful in protecting their families, this story proves itself worthy. Reading these novels was definitely like going back seventy years. They are very much of their era, and what they say is that we women have come a long way, but there is much further we can go.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Kb

    Individual reviews of each book follow. I enjoyed the first three stories much more than the last one. LAURA by Vera Caspary A strange amalgamation of styles, but very well done. The story is written in chronological order, in five parts, from three different points of view, with the inclusion of a few police statements and reports. The different narrators are each written in first person, with distinctly different voices: the pompous and erudite literary figure, the working class (but well-read) Individual reviews of each book follow. I enjoyed the first three stories much more than the last one. LAURA by Vera Caspary A strange amalgamation of styles, but very well done. The story is written in chronological order, in five parts, from three different points of view, with the inclusion of a few police statements and reports. The different narrators are each written in first person, with distinctly different voices: the pompous and erudite literary figure, the working class (but well-read) police detective, and the intelligent, scattered, emotional female. A strange tale of love, bordering on obsession, resulting in murder, with a lovely twist to it. THE HORIZONTAL MAN by Helen Eustis A young professor at a women's college is murdered, and the death affects the academic community in different ways. Although dated and full of the stereotypes of its era, this story is a marvelous Freudian satire, told from multiple points of view. Helen Eustis has a wicked sense of humour, absolutely skewering the human frailties of various academic types. But even the most masterful satire can get tedious if it drags on too long, especially if it is meant to be a novel of suspense. (Though it wasn't very suspenseful, after all, since the ending was quite predictable.) Still, barring the unnecessarily extended length, it was a good read. IN A LONELY PLACE by Dorothy B. Hughes L.A. Noir along the lines of Dashiell Hammett or Ross MacDonald, but slightly more menacing because it is not told from the investigator's point of view but instead is narrated from the criminal's perspective, though the real criminal behaviour is never mentioned. (The movie with Humphrey Bogart was turned into a very different story, worth looking into in its own right.) One of those books where they say the setting is a character. Strange, abrupt ending, somewhat predictable. THE BLANK WALL by Elizabeth Sanxay Holding A woman with a mild learning disability affecting her executive function (the ability to plan, organize, and make decisions) attempts to look after her family while her husband is away at war in the South Pacific. She goes from one poor decision to another, unable to form a proper plan and picture realistic consequences for the unwise actions she takes. It resolves into a terribly unsatisfactory, deus ex machina ending. Worth noting: a minor character, Lieutenant Levy, the police investigator who seems like the prototype for Columbo, was one of the better parts of the story.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Carolyn

    This was an interesting collection of 4 crime novels written by women in the 1940's. I had only been familiar with one story, Laura by way of the 1945 film noir movie which starred Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews and Clifton Webb. The book was written by Vera Caspary, and tells the story of a beautiful and independent young woman who was loved by most every man she met, including the policeman investigating her murder. There is a surprise twist that changes everything about the case. I found the now This was an interesting collection of 4 crime novels written by women in the 1940's. I had only been familiar with one story, Laura by way of the 1945 film noir movie which starred Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews and Clifton Webb. The book was written by Vera Caspary, and tells the story of a beautiful and independent young woman who was loved by most every man she met, including the policeman investigating her murder. There is a surprise twist that changes everything about the case. I found the now obsolete slang and expressions and the mannered narration dated the book and took me out of the story occasionally, but it is still a strong crime story. The Horizontal Man, by Helen Eustis, is set in a University Campus and involves the murder of a young English Professor. The characters are mostly quirky and entertaining. There is psychiatric and psychoanalytical theory to explain some of the characters' mental instability. These theories have been mostly disputed today. I felt there was enough humor, some of it unintentional, to update this into a TV movie. In a Lonely Place by Dorothy B. Hughes, is the story of of a young man who was an Air Force pilot in WW2 and has returned to the States. His life has gone downhill and he is getting by with fraud and deceit, making no attempt to find honest employment or lodging. He feels the need of a woman in his life, and pretends to be a wealthy writer to attract a woman who expects to be royally supported by men. As he narrates the story we become aware through his wartime buddy, who is a policeman, that there is an ongoing investigation concerning the serial killing of young women. We begin to suspect the narrator is the killer as the suspense builds. The Blank Wall, by Elizabeth Sanxay Holding, is the story of a woman struggling with running a household while her husband is away in the Pacific War. She is contending with two teenagers, her elderly father, rationing, and isolation but has a very efficient housekeeper. Her rebellious teenaged daughter was involved with an unsavory man who is killed. She is determined to keep the girl from scandal, but her muddled attempts to protect the girl make matters worse and entangle her with some dangerous criminals. Having previously enjoyed the collection of crime stories by woman novelists of the 1950's, I hope there will be similar sets of books by male authors from the 1940's and 1950's.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Nick

    Caspary, LAURA: ****1/2. Fascinating depiction of the compromises & misalliances of professional women of the time. Read 9/15. Eustis, THE HORIZONTAL MAN: ***1/2. My least favorite of the collection, mostly for its sprawling focus and problematic solution, but it has moments of delicious camp and a swell near-protagonist in amateur sleuth & college gal Kate whose exploits I would gladly read additional stories about. Read 9/15. Hughes, IN A LONELY PLACE: *****. Terrifying portrait of post-war mala Caspary, LAURA: ****1/2. Fascinating depiction of the compromises & misalliances of professional women of the time. Read 9/15. Eustis, THE HORIZONTAL MAN: ***1/2. My least favorite of the collection, mostly for its sprawling focus and problematic solution, but it has moments of delicious camp and a swell near-protagonist in amateur sleuth & college gal Kate whose exploits I would gladly read additional stories about. Read 9/15. Hughes, IN A LONELY PLACE: *****. Terrifying portrait of post-war malaise; to say more would ruin everything. Read 5/16. Sanxay-Holding, THE BLANK WALL: *****. A novelistic game of cat-and-mouse up there with Fearing's THE BIG CLOCK, but this one is special, rooted as it is in the cares and concerns of a middle-aged mother on her own in wartime, covering up a mysterious death mainly to avoid social scandal. Absolutely bonkers, and the kind of book that necessitates this sort of series in the first place. Read 10/16.

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