Wednesday, June 29, 2011

In A Lonely Place - Dorothy B. Hughes

Check out this nicely creepy 1947 noir that is a cross between Jim Thompson's The Killer Inside Me (1952) and Patricia Highsmith's The Talented Mr. Ripley (1955).  Since In a Lonely Place came first, I wonder if either or both Thompson or Highsmith were influenced by Dorothy B. Hughes.  If this novel is any indication of her other work, she was a proud 15-minute egg among the hard-boiled.

This short, sharp novel is as gritty and gloomy as you could desire, and Hughes' sentences are brutally beautiful.  They're cold and pointed like icicles precariously hanging on an upstairs window.  In a Lonely Place is not a mystery; the killer is known pretty early on.  It's more a question of when and how will the cops figure everything out?  Also, at what point is the switch from the killer toying with them to them toying with him?

My only nitpick is that the two main characters have such silly names -- Dix Steele (yes, I snickered) and Brub Nicolai --that it was difficult at times for me to not overly focus on that aspect.  But that's just a tiny grievance, compared to the enjoyment I got out of the book.  I'm a Dorothy B. Hughes fan now and I want to read her other works, especially Ride the Pink Horse, The Blackbirder and her critical biography of Erle Stanley Gardner.

In a Lonely Place was made into a movie in 1950 starring Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame.  The movie resembles the book only superficially.  Bogart's character isn't a killer, but he's a classic example of fubb.  In some ways, he's even more intriguing than the Dix Steele portrayed in Hughes' novel.  It's a fascinating movie which I'll re-watch sometime when I have some distance from the book.  Being a Bogart
fan, I'm sure I would have liked it better if I hadn't been expecting a more faithful rendition of the novel.

3 comments:

Carrie#K said...

I just watched that movie! Love Bogie. And Gloria Grahame. (Well, probably months ago but in the timeline of movies I watch, that's 'just watched'.) I'll have to check out Dorothy B Hughes, I love Jim Thompson and your description of her sentences are positively seductive.

Are Patricia Highsmith's novels better than the Matt Daman movie? Because I thought that was terrible. Plodding and slow.

Eva said...

*puts In a Lonely Place on TBR*

*giggles at Dix Steele*

*reminds self to really get to Highsmith this year*

C.B. James said...

I've seen the movie but never considered looking into its source material. Thanks for this review. I'll be on the lookout for this book. Sounds like something I would enjoy and like a good summer read.