Femme Fatal:Gloria Denton

 

Femme fatale Gloria Denton is smart, tough, crooked, ruthless, glamorous and unlike traditional Femme Fatales (Vera Caspary’s Bedelia and Dorothy B. Hughes’ Laurel Gray) Denton is approaching middle-age.

In the casinos, she could pass for thirty. The low lighting, her glossy auburn hair, legs swinging, tapping the bottom rim of the tall bettor stools. At the track, though, she looked her age. Even swatted in oversized sunglasses, a wide brimmed hat, bright gloves, she couldn’t outflank the merciless sunshine, the glare off the grandstand. Not that it mattered. She was legend. 

The unnamed first person narrator of Queenpin is a book-keeper, some twenty years younger than Denton and whom Denton takes on as her protégé. In the seedy world of gangsters and racketeers  Denton teaches her young apprentice how to prosper :

I gave him my best walk, half class, half pay broad. If you can twist those two tightly, fellas don’t know what hit ‘em. They can’t peg you. It gets them — the smart — ones — going. Spinning hard trying to fix you. You’re like the best parts of their grammar school sweetheart and their first whore all in one sizzling package.

Although Queenpin was published in 2007, the author, Megan Abbott, sets her novel in the 40’s but with a feminist twist.

Traditionally, a femme fatale is completely male-defined: the fatale becomes what they desire because it grants her power over them. Gloria does no such thing. She embodies power, respect, and the promise of violence. She does not mince her words or flaunt her body, and she ALWAYS does her own wet-work… “If you can control yourself, you can control everyone else”.  SOURCE

Noir Crime Fiction Megan Abbott

Megan Abbott has won awards the length of my arm starting with the Edgar Award for best paperback original novel for Queenpin from the Mystery Writers of America. She’s picked up such prizes as The Barry Award, Booksense Notable Pick and was nominated for the Hammett Prize, The Shirley Jackson Prize, The Los Angeles Times Book Prize and The Folio Prize. Her novel The Fever (2014) was listed by Amazon as one of the best books of the year while The New York Times, People and Entertainment Weekly named it one of the best books of the summer. The list of accolades for Meagan Abbott goes on and on.

Here’s more on Queenpin and Megan Abbott:

http://www.meganabbott.com/

http://noirwhale.com/2012/02/25/noir-crime-fiction-queenpin-by-megan-abbott/

https://bloodymurder.wordpress.com/2012/03/31/queenpin-by-megan-abbott/

http://detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.ca/2008/05/noir-sex-and-betrayal-interview-with_12.html

 

Femme Fatale: Bedelia

Bedelia is a sexy, sensitive, emotional fragile female who is good at playing the role of the  submissive, doting, perfect housewife in need of protection by a strong man.

Husband beware. There is another side to this attractive damsel in distress.

As her mask slowly slips away, Bedelia is revealed not only as a pathological liar but as a woman who  has learned to manipulate men’s expectations of women with deadly efficiency. Bedelia is a complex killer protagonist; instead of driving men to crime and destruction, Bedelia is a hard-boiled murderer herself… (Afterword in Bedelia,  p. 204).

 

BEDELIA Margaret Lockwood

Although Bedelia’s bank account increased with each of her husband’s supposedly natural deaths, Caspary is more interested in commenting on the few ways that women at that time (the novel was set in 1913 although Caspary wrote it in 1943) had of getting ahead.

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Femme Fatale: Blanche Lake

What makes Blanche Lake a femme fatale?

She doesn’t try to seduce the detectives who are investigating the case of her missing daughter as  did Kitty Keeler in The Investigation.

Although Blanche Lake is an attractive woman who has just moved into New York City with her three-year old daughter she is not drop-dead gorgeous as is Jennifer Rockwell  in Night Train.

Nor is she money hungry like Dolly Henderson in Honor Bound.

Blanche Lake is very frightened and very disturbed.

Though little physical violence is present in the novel,  Piper brutally deals with the psychological violence that is a common theme throughout her noir thrillers.

Evelyn Piper was Merriam Modell ‘s pen name. She has also been referred to as Miriam Levant, the name she was given on her birth in Manhattan in 1908.  Her novel The Innocent – a domestic suspense novel  was nominated for the Edgar Award for Best First Novel and Bunny Lake is Missing was made into a Hollywood film.

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Femme Fatale: Gypsy Rose Lee

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Gypsy Rose Lee in 1937 (AP Photo)

What makes Gypsy Rose Lee stand apart from other Femme Fatales I’ve written about so far,  is that she is both author and protagonist of her noir thriller, Mother Finds a Body.

 Written in 1942,  Mother Finds a Body is an off-the-wall novel set in a desert mobile home inhabited by wacky burlesque characters. Gypsy Rose Lee was herself an American burlesque entertainer famous for her striptease act. She made her New York Broadway debut in 1931 at The Republic theater.

 Mother Finds a Body was Lee’s second murder mystery, although there is controversy as to whether Lee hired Craig Rice  ( Queen of the Screwball Mystery) as ghost writer or collaborated (as editor, perhaps) on the writing of Mother Finds a Body. 

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Femme Fatale: Jennifer Rockwell

NightTrain.jpg

 Jennifer Rockwell, the Femme Fatale in this contemporary novel is dead and it is up to Detective Mike Hoolihan- an emasculated female detective (“If you take intelligence from me, if you take it from my face, then you really don’t leave me with very much at all.”) –  to find out why.

Night Train is Martin Amis’ literary police procedural crime novel and true to literary type novels, character comes before plot. Hints that Jennifer Rockwell is a femme fatale are dropped throughout the novel.

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FEMME FATALE: JEAN MCVEIGH

 

The Husband

 

Unlike many femme fatale, Jean McVeigh is neither beautiful, nor curvy. She was too thin, sallow flesh, too pale in tone for her untinted brown hair covered her jutting bones sparsely. No artifice enhanced her womanhood but this, in a certain way, gave her class.

Jean McVeigh does, however, have what most femmes fatales want: money. She comes from a family of wealthy people on both her father and mother’s side. And like most femmes fatales she is lonely.

In  a hotel bar in London, she meets Stuart Howell, a dashing, young man with a series of failed investments and in love with Valerie a girl he desperately wants. (We know where this is going, don’t we?)

Her (McVeigh’s)  preoccupation with him was out of all proportion to the circumstances, or to sanity. She told this to herself over and over but failed to weaken her intense longing for another meeting. Jean was at a bad point of her life, the end of one phase and the beginning of nothing.

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Femme Fatale: Dolly Henderson

The copy of Honor Bound which I read in the special collection of the National Library was so old (1934) that I was not allowed to take it out. I had to be careful as I turned the rough, yellowed pages so as not to have them disintegrate into dust in my hands.

Dolly Henderson in Honor Bound appears to be sweet and wanting to do the right thing. But here’s how Faith Baldwin describes her:

“She found herself thinking of money not in terms of coinage, but in terms of power: What it made of life, the channels it dug, the harbors it created, and the ramparts it threw up around the person who possessed it. It was terrifying.”

Engaged to Hank Ellis, a man who is over his head in debt, Dolly elopes with Vankennen Norris, an extremely wealthy man.

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