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on 6 May 2012
Dorothy B Hughes writes literary hardboiled noir taking on and matching Chandler, Hammett, Cain and Thompson at their game. In a Lonely Place is atmospheric, taut, tense and dark. Although written in the third person, the story is told exclusively from the point of view of Dix Steele, a misogynist with a murderous psychosis, and Hughes does well at capturing his corrupted rationalities. This is not however at the expense of the other characters, who are still well realised and rounded. The pacing is nicely done, with the gradual unfolding of Steele's back story and the investigation of the murders, yet there is no flab, the story being tightly told. There's also no violence, with Hughes able to create drama and tension without directly portraying any of the crimes or their aftermath. For my tastes, the story is a little too melodramatic in places and I whilst I enjoyed it and recognised all its merits, I was never fully captivated and swept along by the story. Nevertheless, a very solid piece of hardboiled noir.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 25 September 2015
The Library of America has published a two-volume set of "Women Crime Writers", which includes four novels from the 1940s and four novels from the 1950s. I am enjoying working through the individual works in the collection which the Library of America has kindly provided to me for review. The third work in the 1940s volume is this 1947 suspense novel by Dorothy Hughes, "In a Lonely Place". It is an excellent novel, worthy of its new place in the LOA.

"In a Lonely Place" is one of the first novelistic explorations of a serial killer. The primary character, Dix Steele, had been a fighter pilot stationed in England during WW II. Hughes introduces the reader to Dix as he wanders the streets on the outskirts of Los Angeles on a rainy foggy September evening looking for a young woman to rape and murder. The first potential victim evades him, but he soon finds another. The plot is complicated when Dix reconnects with his former Air Force buddy Brub Nicholai, and his lovely and perceptive wife Sylvia. Brub has become a detective who is investigating the murders of young women which, unknown to him, his old friend Dix has committed. A loner who suppresses his feelings of violent rage, Dix has become involved with a young divorced redhead, Laura, with a flair for high living. Dix's passion for Laura leads to his downfall.

Although narrated in the third person, Hughes' novel manages to get inside the mind and heart of Dix Steele. Hughes' taut, hardboiled writing makes the reader understand her chilling character and almost feel sympathy for him. Even with his old friendship with Brub and his attempted love affair with Laura, Dix is an essential loner and a killer, wandering the streets and isolated beaches at night, driving his car through the rain, and plotting his murders. Here is one of many passages in which the author gets inside her character as Dix remembers a woman he had loved while stationed in England.

"He drove away not knowing where he was going or why. Only to get away. He did not know how far he drove or how long. There was no thinking in his mind; there was only sound, the swish of the dark wet water over the cold sand, colder than Brucie; the water was the voice of a girl, a voice hushed by fear, repeating over and over , no ... no .. no. Fear wasn't a jagged split of light cleaving you; fear wasn't a cold fist in your entrails; fear wasn't something you could face and demolish with your arrogance. Fear was the fog, creeping about you, winding its tendrils about you, seeping into your pores and flesh and bone. Fear was a girl whispering a word over and again, a small word you refused to hear although the whisper was a scream in your ears, a dreadful scream you could never forget. You heard it over and again and the fog was a ripe red veil you could not tear away from your eyes. Buucie was dead. Brucie whom he had loved, who was his only love."

The novel gives a portrayal of the anomie that affected many young men after they returned from the war, including those who undertook to live productive lives. The book also portrays Los Angeles in the late 1940s. However this is primarily a work of noir as it portrays the mind of a serial murderer.

The LOA volume includes a biographical sketch of Dorothy Hughes (1904 1993) Hughes began her writing career as a journalist and a poet: a 1931 volume "Dark Certainty" won the Yale Series of Younger Poets competition. Beginning in 1940, Hughes wrote a long series of suspense novels. She was named a "Grand Master of the Mystery Writers of America" in 1978. In her later years, she wrote a biography of Eric Stanley Gardner. In 1950, "In a Lonely Place" was made into a celebrated film noir directed by Nicholas Ray and starring Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame..

I found "In a Lonely Place" the highlight of the LOAs collection of women's suspense writing from the 1940s. It is an outstanding book which creates suspense and probes the soul. The LOA has done a service in making this book accessible in its new anthology.

Robin Friedman
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VINE VOICEon 21 October 2010
Told in the first person by Dix Steele a sociopathic, misogynistic killer. This is pure American hard-boiled story writing. If you have read and enjoyed either 'The Killer Inside Me' or the Ripley novels by Patricia Highsmith, then this will be right up your street.

This may have had resonance amongst a traumatised post war American G.I. generation. Indeed, the question is never posed but would we today suggest that Dix's mental state was exacerbated by PTSD? After all his first victim, the adored 'Brucie', was killed in wartime not before.

Told in a short, factual reportage style. The tension is ratcheted by Dix's desire to take risks. The main risk being to ingratiate himself with an Army buddy who is now a police detective with the LAPD and who happens to be investigating the series of murders of young women.

Interesting to read a woman author's insight into a man's mind who regards all women as 'liars and whores'. This is not gore-fest but instead a compelling insight into a man trapped in a very lonely place indeed.
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on 21 March 2013
Dorothy Hughes was a new acquaintance for me and I don't remember having seen the movie either. Being a Hammett/Chandler/MacDonald fan Hughes was immediately a big hit for me. The intrigue is great and the description of the personalities very stylish. It IS a little improbable, but so are many other similar books. Although there are no actual surprises, the suspense carries the book forward. Pity that Hughes stopped writing before she really could have written great books!
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on 17 April 2016
Absolutely wonderful. A hardboiled crime novel written from an unusual perspective. It's hard to say much about it without giving away the plot, but the author sustains the tension brilliantly across 186 pages. Hughes makes you empathise closely with the characters, so this ends up being as much a tragedy as a mystery. It has much of the atmosphere of Raymond Chandler, etc, but with an additional emotional quality.
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on 28 August 2013
This novel revolves the antics of Dix Steele a serial killer who out of hubris rekindles a friendship with one of the Detectives who is investigating his murders. Whilst the novel was made into a movie of the same name, the movie bares very little resemblance to the novel.

Dorothy B. Hughes is one of the hardboiled authors of the classic period. Whilst this novel may not have the wit of Chandler or the plotting of Hammett, it does however fall into the category of a psychological thriller, the pace maybe somewhat slow for some readers, and the character of a serial killer may not be as believable as say in Jim Thompson's Killer inside me. However, it is intelligently written in an intuitive and introspective sense even though the climax is flagged well in advance.
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on 28 March 2015
I read this for a uni course and really enjoyed looking at a "Hollywood" novel. The uncertainty of the protagonist being the criminal or not is really compelling and I found the ending to be truly shocking. I would definitely read this as a quick thriller
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on 26 March 2013
Synopsis/blurb.........
Dix Steele is back in town, and 'town' is post-war LA. His best friend Brub is on the force of the LAPD, and as the two meet in country clubs and beach bars, they discuss the latest case: a strangler is preying on young women in the dark. Dix listens with interest as Brub describes their top suspect, as yet unnamed. Dix loves the dark and women in equal measure, so he knows enough to watch his step, though when he meets the luscious Laurel Gray, something begins to crack. The American Dream is showing its seamy underside.

This book originally published in 1947 was the March read, as voted for by the fellow pulp fiction group members on Goodreads. I will hold my hands up and admit it hadn't attracted my vote. (The Hot Spot - Charles Williams was my selection.) I can't be doing with women authors! I'm only joking; honest.........I admit I don't read enough by them. So it was an opportunity to, if not redress the balance at least make a tentative step in that direction.
It was enjoyable enough insofar as I was kept wondering throughout whether Steele would get away home free. We know from a very early stage that there is something screwy about him, and a lot of the narrative allows us to see things from his perspective. He masks his emotions easily and only briefly does he allow his guard to slip and allow his friend's wife to suspect he is more than he seems. Brub, his policeman friend seems taken in initially......dinner with good ol' Dix, drinks with good ol' Dix, reminiscing about their shared exploits in England during the war.
Steele, funding his pretend lifestyle as a novelist, on someone else's dime, eventually allows his sickness and paranoia to overtake his caution. Having fallen for wannabe actress Laurel Gray, his eventual downfall is brought about in part by the sharp perceptiveness of Brub's wife Sylvia Nicholai.
This was an interesting and enjoyable book, with an insightful portrayal of a serial killer by Hughes. Whilst most of the violence happens off-page, and may be considered tame by today's standards it still retains the capacity to chill.
As an aside, there was a noir film noir adaptation from the book, starring Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame released in 1950. Brought out on DVD approximately 10 years ago.
4 from 5
My copy of the book was borrowed from my local library in Leighton Buzzard.
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on 5 October 2010
I read this book then watched the film (with Humphrey Bogart). I enjoyed both, but the book was better - it was much darker. Noirish - which I like - and satisfying. It is written in the first person perspective so has that unique perspective of the main protanganist. A good read.
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on 4 February 2014
Fascinating study of the mind of a murderer, told with brilliant use of suspense. Made into a film starring Humphrey Bogart directed by Nicholas Ray - the story has little relationship to the novel. Both are excellent in their own way.
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