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The Expendable Man (New York Review Books Classics) Paperback – 3 Jul 2012

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Product details

  • Paperback: 264 pages
  • Publisher: New York Review of Books (3 July 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 159017495X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590174951
  • Product Dimensions: 13.1 x 1.5 x 20.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,037,240 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Antenna TOP 500 REVIEWER on 24 April 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Hugh Densmore, a young American doctor on his way to his niece's wedding in Phoenix feels obliged, against his better judgement, to pick up a teenage hitchhiker. Who knows what will befall her if he does not? She proves to be both an unpleasant liar and a pathetic object of pity. When local newspapers report the discovery of a young girl's body in a canal, Hugh is convinced it belongs to the hitchhiker, and that the police will soon be knocking on his door. He is fatalistic, yet also determined not to spoil the wedding and to prove his innocence.

It is not until more than fifty pages in that the author delivers a master stroke by revealing a piece of information that stopped me in my tracks. Not only does it explain Hugh's previous almost paranoid fears, but completely alters the reader's perception of the situation. I was forced to look back to see if I had misread some details, but it was clear that I had made certain assumptions and was potentially as guilty of misjudgements as some of the characters in the book.

This book is partly a psychological crime thriller in which every step is developed in forensic detail. It is also a study of life in the western states of America in the early 1960s - the baking afternoon heat and traffic jams of Phoenix, the "startling growth" of the suburbs, the abrupt change from surfaced roads to rough tracks through the semi-desert landscape of "troglodyte rocks and spire cacti". Although Dorothy Hughes can be a little shaky on the flowering of romance, she is excellent on landscapes, cold starry nights and the burgeoning fast food culture as well as deeper issues in a world of racial prejudice and criminalisation of abortion.
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By Linda Carter on 20 Nov. 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Published in the early 60s, this novel in the 'noir' genre plays with our assumptions and prejudices. The reader quickly sees the danger of the protagonist and is kept guessing to the end.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 13 reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Fascinating story with a twist I never saw coming... 24 Oct. 2013
By J. D. Mason - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I really can't say very much about this book without giving too much away - except that it is masterfully written and opens a window for us to get a glimpse of suburban life in the early 1960's. The book opens with the protagonist picking up a hitchiker in the Arizona/California desert. From that point his life changes dramatically, with consequences that are about as big as they get.

Again, I can't give away too much, but about 1/3 of the way into the story a critical piece of information is casually revealed. It caused me to almost literally do a double take - "Wait, what did he just say?" - was my reaction. Suddenly the entire story took on a completely different character, and the man's previous actions were seen in an entirely NEW light. Everything changed - including the rules of the already high stakes "game" he found himself playing.

Don't miss this story.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Crisp and well-crafted with the potential to keep you up late reading on and on... 15 July 2012
By M. Sweeney - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Driving at sundown out of Indio into the cooling desert, a cigarette and a hunt for a decent radio station ... _The Expendable Man_ opens with a seductive, iconic image. But threads of unease already haunt Hugh Densmore's story and complications are moving in with the nightfall. As the tension mounts, the author kicks the story into overdrive ... and this is one with the potential to keep you up late turning its pages.

American Noir fiction has never been one of my faves; I've felt the drive for dark atmosphere can overwhelm the characters and the story. But Dorothy B. Hughes crafts her tale with a perfect balance of pacing and development and crisp description.

Published in 1963, this is a worthwhile gem for mystery and noir lovers as well as those who enjoy a well-crafted story.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Wow 2 Sept. 2012
By J. Smallridge - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
How this fell out of the collective consciousness of readers is beyond me. This is one of the best noir books I've ever encountered and it stands up not just as a mystery of the first order, but as a sociological and psychological thriller of the first order as well. Hughes' writing style is sparse, but the depths of her characters' psyches runs deep throughout in numerous subtle ways (her descriptions of rooms and how characters relate to their surroundings is incredible). She has a brilliant way of using small movements to create tension, and to reveal.

I disagree with the argument that only the first section of the book holds up. No question the first section has the most tension. However, by the second and third sections, a reader truly cares about the characters involved and that is because Hughes has done such a great job of 1) building on the early tension and 2) using her strong characterization to keep the story moving to a terrific conclusion.

This is a great read. Shame on us for forgetting it.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Stunning Golden Age crime thriller which will leave the reader reeling 11 Mar. 2015
By Lady Fancifull - Published on
Format: Paperback
The Expendable Man is set in America - Los Angeles to Arizona, in 1963, and is most firmly rooted in the politics of that time. Politics and law both at large, and how they play out within the hearts and minds of individuals.

This was a golden time in America's view of itself, the American Dream - at least for those who already were the haves of society. America had a charismatic, dynamic young president, championing liberal values, respected at home and abroad. But the times also had (when do they ever not) darker, more sinister undercurrents.

This is actually a book which is very hard to adequately and enticingly review - because there is very little a reviewer can say about it, if they are not to spoil the necessary journey which each reader must make. I'm particularly glad I picked this up without any prior knowledge, except that being a Persephone book, it would be well-written, that it was a `golden-age crime' and that it had been described, on publication, by the New York Times as : "the author's finest work to date, of unusual stature both as a suspense story and as a straight novel" And, that NYT reviewer spoke truly - this book delivered. Here is as much as I can say:

Hugh is driving from Indio to Phoenix. Against his instincts, he picks up a young female hitchhiker. He knows this is probably not a sensible thing to do, but he is a decent man with younger sisters, and thinks it is better that he be the one to do this, rather than leave her perhaps to be picked up by some other, less decent man. The highway is deserted and dark is approaching. The girl, who definitely looks and acts, more than a little aggressively, is clearly someone with something to hide. And appears to be one of the dispossessed poor. And everything moves downhill from there on in. Quite rapidly, and quite unstoppably.

Something about the book is, right from the start, implacably tense and oppressive, even the description (which hooked me immediately) of the landscape, in the opening paragraph :
"Across the tracks there was a different world. The long and lonely country was the colour of sand. The horizon hills were haze-black; the clumps of mesquite stood in dark pools of their own shadowing. But the pools and the rim of dark horizon were discerned only by conscious seeing, else the world was all sand, brown and tan and copper and pale beige. Even the sky at this moment was sand, reflection of the fading bronze of the sun"

Hugh has something about him. He seems more than a little uptight; more than a little fearful; perhaps, even a little prone to suspicion and paranoia. Yet the reader must accept that he is a good man, and senses that his motivation for picking up the teenage girl is exactly what we are told it is. Hugh's tension, Hugh's curious nervousness instantly infects the reader, and we too make the journey, uneasy, and compelled.

More can't really be said.....but if you are looking for a wonderfully taut, psychologically authentic, brilliantly written suspenseful crime thriller, which will deliver surprising and truthful shocks, and set you thinking hard - do read it. It's a stunner! Highly recommended
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Timely, Well-Written, Riveting Book 17 Dec. 2013
By Jonathan Swift - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Although this book is decades old, it is timely reading in its reminders of racial prejudice and back-alley abortions. The writing style is lovely -- light-handed and well-described. As you read, you come to something that brings you up short and you re-read it: "Did she say X?" Beautifully written and highly recommended.
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