Friday, April 13, 2012

"In A Lonely Place" by Dorothy B. Hughes

Dix Steele is a lonely man.  He has to be; it is safer this way.  The war is over, and he is in Los Angeles, trying to live the American Dream - be rich without really having to work for it.  He runs into his old friend Brub from the service and decides that he can become more social.  Sure, it is dangerous but he is smart enough to not make any mistakes.  Brub is happily married now, and works as a police detective.  He is currently trying to solve the case of The Strangler who rapes and strangles random women all over town at night, and leaves no clues.  Dix can't help himself and edges himself closer to Brub, as the renewed friendship is adding a new level to the game.  Dix even starts a relationship with his neighbor Laurel...  but even that cannot quiet the anger in his head.  He just can't help himself anymore.

I entered Ben's Smooth Criminal Challenge because I wanted to learn and experience more in the genre of crime fiction.  I'll admit to feeling nervous about the categories he named:  Harboiled?  Noir?  I had no clear idea of what these really meant...  it was all pulp fiction to me.  In my research, I found this gem under the noir category.  According to Wikipedia, noir fiction is defined as a sub-genre of hard-boiled fiction, in which the protagonist is not the detective, but rather someone else directly tied to the crime (suspect, victim, or the perpetrator).

In A Lonely Place is told from Dix Steele's troubled perspective.  This was obviously written in the days before CSI:, DNA testing, and even before the term "serial killer" was popularized.  It is fun to read for its sheer entertainment value.  So if that is all you are looking for in a crime novel - you've got it here.  But I like to look a little deeper, and realize the atmosphere created by this writing.  You really feel the waves of anxiety and crazy obsessive compulsiveness as they wash over our killer.  You feel his arrogance when he convinces himself that he is getting away, repeatedly, with his idea of the perfect crime.  You twist in his glee as he observes the police becoming more and more frustrated with the case.  Even with all of this going on, there is still some lingering doubt and questions surrounding the killer.  Is he who we think he is?  What compels him to commit these crimes against women?  Is he really as perfect as he thinks he is?

I really enjoyed this book, especially the mood surrounding it - all murky, foggy and dark.  It is also easy to see why this would be published by The Feminist Press - and not only because the author is female.  **SPOILER ALERT**  In the midst of this crime spree against women, it is the strong and intelligent women who crack the case.  It is their clever observations that bring the truth to light, and set the male detectives on the right track.  In fact, it appears as though the killer might have gotten away had it not been for a scheme designed by a woman. **END SPOILER**   I'm really glad to discover pulp fiction and am completely looking forward to my hard-boiled classic.  I wonder which will appear to me more - noir or hard-boiled?  Also, if you are into old movies - this was made into a movie starring the great Humphrey Bogart in 1950.

In A Lonely Place
by Dorothy B. Hughes
The Feminist Press of CUNY, 2010.  Originally published 1947.
223 pages
Source:  Purchased New
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1 comment:

Desiree said...

Feminist pulp fiction?! Hot dog! I'm sold. Thanks for this review!

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