Dolores Hitchens holds down the No. 3 spot in mylist of prolific California novelists. Her output was impressive. She produced some forty-five books in a career that began in 1938 and continued until her death in 1973. Only twice did she stray from standard puzzle mysteries, many of which featured a cat named Samantha, into the world of the hard-boiled. Both forays proved successful. Author and critic Bill Pronzini calls Sleep with Slander (1960) “the best traditional male private eye novel written by a woman.” And noir authority Woody Haut lists Sleep with Strangers as one of the "primary pulp culture texts." It's also probably the best novel set in Long Beach, although the public library there doesn't have a copy.
Sleep with Strangers by Dolores Hitchens. Doubleday (1955), 192 pp.
Forty-something Long Beach P. I. Jim Sader has begun a new case. His client, young and apparently unsullied Kay Wanderley, comes from one of the town's most prominent families. She wants Jim to locate her mother, Felicia, who left home three nights before and hasn't been seen since. He begins interviewing acquaintances, starting with Felicia's attractive drinking partner, Tina Griffin, and her surly would-be real estate client, Charlie Ott. Meanwhile, Jim's junior partner, Dan Scarborough, is working on a similar case. The missing person is Perry Ajoukian, whose now-frail father lives off a fortune made in the local oil boom. Of more interest to Dan is Perry's neglected wife, Connie, who stuns him with her glittering beauty. Jim at first doubts that the two simultaneous disappearances are connected.
Hitchens renders this mystery story much in the Ross Macdonald style. Jim and Dan are calm and meticulous. They avoid wisecracks and mayhem. More important, they operate in a fully realized setting. Social class and historical precedent have as much importance as appearances. Unlike Macdonald Hitchens uses a third-person narrator, but she keeps the focus tightly on Jim. He's in every scene, and his are the only thoughts the narrator relates. The author goes her own way, however, in the depiction of her protagonist. In contrast to Lew Archer, the Macdonald hero who possesses relentless stamina, Jim is coming to realize that he's growing older and less energetic. More to the point, he fears that his appeal to ingenuous but sexy young women is vanishing. The more he thinks about Kay, the more she becomes a challenge to his manhood -- and his judgment. The solution to the mystery might have been trickier, but otherwise the book is highly recommended.