Saturday, December 9, 2023

In A Lonely Place - Dorothy B. Hughes

It turns out that it's almost exactly 13 years since I first read 'In A Lonely Place', it's stayed with me ever since, and after this summer's reprint, I've been recommending it to anyone who stands still long enough at work. Kate's reprint of the year awards has been the perfect excuse to revisit. 

Dorothy B. Hughes is a fabulous writer of Noir who deserves the same kind of recognition as Raymond Chandler, but hasn't yet got it. Her books are available, but not in a collectible smart set, or even reliably in paperback. As 'In A Lonely Place' is easily available right now, and also quite short it's a very good place to start though. 

It’s not without faults; the end is sort of rushed and not entirely convincing but basically it’s a thrilling, chilling, very hard-boiled, and nicely twisting 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 a 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 clear who the guilty party was going to be, it also seemed equally likely that this was a red herring – which Hughes is a mistress of. She's very capable of wrong-footing me which is something I love in this context. Atmosphere and the ability to create a palpable sense of tension are her other strong points - reading that opening scene as a woman you immediately know how the girl in the book feels walking down a dark street becoming aware of a man's step behind her in the fog. If I ever doubted how his pleasure in her fear is described the internet has since proven over and again that she was spot on. 

It was a slightly different world when I first read this book, I'm not sure I fully appreciated how Hughes captures the misogyny of her anti-hero but it really struck me this time. As a reader I was constantly aware of his mood, his anger, the threat he poses - it's a masterclass.

This is a dark, tense, entertaining read which provides an excellent antidote to seasonal gaiety. You will not regret giving Hughes a chance, it's a perfect bit of Noir. There's also a film version with Humphrey Bogart which is worth searching out after reading the book. It's different but still good. 

No comments:

Post a Comment