Friday, December 17, 2010

In a Lonely Place – Dorothy B. Hughes

I had meant to go out tonight, but as well as having not a thing to wear I got home tired, grumpy, cold, dirty, aching, whiny, and hungry – essentially a full complement of miserable fairy tale dwarves and very bad company for my old (yet still 5 days younger than me) friends birthday. I could also add sulky to the list because the vital amazon package dispatched on the 7th expected from the 11th IS STILL NOT HERE. My godson (who won’t notice) won’t get his Christmas present on time.

The restorative powers of a hot bath and hot food have helped me regain some sort of perspective but it’s still been one of those niggly days, my reading mood is all over the place as well – I want to get stuck into something big and involved and maybe a bit noir-ish, but don’t have the time or concentration (or anything both Victorian and hard boiled) to do that this week so meanwhile it’s hard to settle...

When I picked up ‘The Blackbirder’ to read a week or two back it was because I’d just got myself a copy of ‘In a Lonely Place’ and thought I should read the old Hughes first. I’ve been also hoarding in the manner of a book squirrel recently earmarking everything for the 10 short days off I’ve got looming in the new year, but have reluctantly admitted to myself that I can’t haul 20 odd books away with me (not if I want clean socks as well)(I want clean socks). Long story short I went straight from ‘The Blackbirder’ to ‘In a Lonely Place’ which turned out to be a good thing. I was vaguely disappointed by ‘The Blackbirder’ but very impressed with ‘In a Lonely Place’.

It’s not as if ‘In a Lonely Place’ is without faults; the end is sort of rushed and not entirely convincing but basically it’s a thrilling, chilling, very hard boiled and nicely twisted sort of story. It opens in the middle of a sea fog with a man watching a woman thinking about how he might approach her, how she wouldn’t be scared – at first. This is Los Angeles in 1947 and a serial killer is on the loose, every month a girl is raped, strangled and dumped and he’s clever enough to leave no traces. This is the situation when two old war comrades meet, Dix Steele and Brub Nikolais. They flew together in the air corps – for one man the war was the high point of his life and he’s come out without job or purpose. The other has put it behind him, is married and an up and coming detective. I can’t say anything else without giving far too much away, and hope I haven’t done so already.

From the very first page it seemed very pretty clear who the guilty party was going to be, it also seemed equally likely that this was a red herring – which is I think Hughes’ strong point. As a reader I’m never very sure about where I stand which is something I love here, it keeps me on my toes and more than makes up for any plotting deficiencies (in a good way – I was so wrapped up in thinking through the issues that Hughes raised I could have overlooked a great deal more than an overly intuitive blonde or two along the way).

What is interesting is reading a book written by a woman about a man whose killing women and why. It’s also a dark, tense, entertaining read which proved an excellent antidote to the season.

1 comment:

  1. I definitely want to read this now. Dark, tense, entertaining = perfect!