Thursday, July 03, 2014

An excerpt from Sarah Weinman's fine piece on Dorothy B. Hughes

Ed here: Thanks to Jake Hinkson for the reminder
For the entire piece go here:

Dorothy B. Hughes — the B stands for Belle, and Hughes replaced her maiden name, Flanagan, when she married Lewis Hughes in 1932 — is my favorite crime writer. Full stop. I arrived at this conclusion in 2004 with my first reading of In a Lonely Place, her standout post-World War II novel, and have never strayed from it over the course of dozens of rereads. That first read remains an indelible memory, since it came at a time when I was in the midst of an incremental transition from passionate crime fiction fan to professional writer. At 25, I knew what I liked and whose prose spoke to me. I was running a now-defunct blog on the genre, which was something of a water cooler for the community, and was reviewing books for a periodical or two.
But In a Lonely Place, which had then been re-released by The Feminist Press, blasted my mind open to new ways of reading. I wasn't only enjoying the story and getting creeped out by the wholly unreliable narrator, Dix Steele, but marveling at the way Hughes let readers in on what was reallyhappening while keeping Dix in the dark about his own nefarious motivations. She was describing the psyche and actions of a serial killer years before the term existed. She depicted the crushing disappointment a war hero feels after coming home to a chorus of crickets, as well as the expectation to pick up where he’d left off — when there’s nothing to pick up. Most marvelously, Hughes turned the whole story on its head by creating strong female characters — from Dix's neighbor and purported love interest, Laurel Gray, to Sylvia, the wife of his best friend (and investigating police detective) Brub Nicolai — and putting moral victory in their hands, through their own actions. This was a feminist book (even if Hughes reportedly poo-poohed the term), written 65 years ago, but the effect was so subtle as to fool people into thinking it was just another crime novel, even an exemplary one.


RJR said...

I knew Dorothy back in the 70's when she was reviewing books.


Dick Lochte said...

A long, long time ago, I was asked to drive Dorothy Hughes to a SoCal MWA meeting. It was about a forty minute ride and maybe thirty minutes return trip. We spoke the whole way about her books and the novelists of the day. I'm sure I must have asked her about the upbeat movie ending to IN A LONELY PLACE, but damn me if I can remember what she answered or one word of our conversation.