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The Expendable Man [Paperback]

Dorothy B. Hughes , Dominic Power
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
RRP: 14.00
Price: 12.88 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Book Description

22 Sep 2006
The critic HRF Keating chose The Expendable Man as one of
his Crime & Mystery: The 100 Best Books. A late addition to the thirteen
crime stories Dorothy B Hughes wrote with great success in one prolific
spell between 1940 and 1952, it was, in his view, her best book. But it is
far more than a crime novel. Just as her earlier books had engaged with
the political issues of the 1940s - the legacy of the Depression, and the
struggles against fascism and rascism - so The Expendable Man, published
in 1963 during Kennedy's presidency and set in Arizona, evokes the
emerging social, racial and moral tensions of the time.

Right from the start you are engrossed - Ms Hughes is a fine storyteller -
in an account of a young American intern doctor driving his parents'
white Cadillac between Los Angeles, where his hospital is, and Phoenix,
Arizona, where his well-off parents live and his sister is about to get
married. He stops in a stretch of desert highway and picks up a young,
feckless girl wanting a lift.

So far, so fine. Vivid descriptions of the landscape - Ms Hughes began her
writing career with a volume of poetry - and a nice study of the girl, a
fluent liar and apparently ready at the drop of a scarf to use a little
moral blackmail to extend that lift all the way to her destination, also
in Phoenix. The young man, one begins to feel, is perhaps a little
paranoid about the dangers of giving a girl on her own a lift, and is
even a little bit of a prig. Yet Hugh Densmore, the young man, becomes one
of those heroes one does not merely ride along with during the progress of
a story, but a person one identifies with, palpitatingly.

Dorothy B Hughes had begun her career in 1940 when she was 36. In 1944 she
went to Hollywood to work as an assistant on Alfred Hitchcock's film
Spellbound. ` It was my job to sit on the set and see how he worked'; and
here she met Ingrid Bergman, one result being that Humphrey Bogart bought
the film rights to one of her books. This, the best and most celebrated of
the Dorothy B Hughes films, was derived from her dark masterpiece, In a
Lonely Place (1947).

When The Expendable Man came out the New York Times called it Mrs Hughes's
finest work to date, of unusual stature both as a suspense story and as a
straight novel and commended its unrelenting suspense, deft trickery and
firmly penetrating treatment of individual and social problems. To read
The Expendable Man today, writes Dominic Power in his Persephone
Afterword, is to experience a mature work by a mistress of her craft.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 344 pages
  • Publisher: Persephone Books Ltd (22 Sep 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1903155584
  • ISBN-13: 978-1903155585
  • Product Dimensions: 14.2 x 19.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 436,583 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


'An exhilarating no-holds-barred semi-political noir thriller...the book
still grips like a vice, and hasn't dated one bit.' -- Maxim Jakubowski in The Guardian September 2006

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An extremely enjoyable read! 7 Aug 2007
Although a thriller, 'The Expendable Man' is never overdramatic and the situation in which the protagonist (Hugh) finds himself is totally believable. It was this which really heightened the tension of the book whilst I was reading it and kept my eyes glued to the page. It realistically brings to life the suspicion underlying 1960s, American society, as well as creating a vivid sense of the LA and Phoenix urban landscapes. Hughes beautifully develops her characters, managing to be understated yet wholly engaging - Hugh is a character any reader could strongly identify with. Whilst providing the thrill of other great crime novels, it is also tender and thought-provoking. It goes beyond most books in the genre and makes the reader question their own stereotypes and presumptions. One of the best books I have read in a long time and a must-read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Riveting and thought-provoking 2 Mar 2011
I loved this. Particularly because it administers a shock, on page 71, which gives us a completely different picture of the hero from the one we have been carrying around, and forces us to confront our own prejudices. One of the very best Persephones and I'd like to read more of this author.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
By A. Hope
The Expendable man is a breathtaking taut 1960's thriller, using a well known plot - that of the wrongly accused man. But where I think Dorothy B Hughes novel differs from other similiar type novels is her brilliant socialogical exploration of the difficult times she was writing in. In 1963 Kennedy was president, the civil rights movement were trying to make a difference, and it was the year Martin Luther King made his iconic "I have a dream" speech. The sense of time and place is wonderful, especially set against the backdrop of the searing heat of an Arizona summer. Dorthothy B Hughes manages to portray several sections of society, the haves and have nots, white, black or Mexican, poor, wealthy , proffessional or working class.
There is a famous twist in the story a little way into the book, which I suspect many readers are surprised by - and this alone, and the way it is done is very powerful. Hugh Densmore - a young doctor from L.A picks up a young girl hitchiker on his way to Pheonix for a family wedding. Later he is accused of her murder.
I must say I have had a job putting it down, and if I had had a free day when I started it I would have read it far too quickly.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Automatic assumptions 26 April 2014
By Antenna TOP 500 REVIEWER
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 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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3.0 out of 5 stars Book 7 Oct 2013
By chajo
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The book was a cancelled library book which was not what I expected. Not sure if I have come across this before. The book itself was a good read, a page turner
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