RARA-AVIS: In a Lonely Place with Dorothy L. Hughes

From: Mark Sullivan ( DJ-Anonyme@webtv.net)
Date: 23 May 2001

I finished In A Lonely Place the other night. I thought it was quite good, definitely noir and possibly hardboiled. In many ways, Dix Steele reminded me of a much harder Tom Ripley. Like Ripley, Dix is a guy with no money who has a history of mooching off of his "betters." However, where Ripley kills to further his desires, Steele desires to kill. For the record, that is not a spoiler, you know from very near the beginning that Dix is the killer. The book opens with him stalking a potential victim. The story builds on his feeling of superiority to and playing cat and mouse with the Police, including an Air Force-vet buddy. Meanwhile, he meets a girl he thinks may end, or at least lessen, his need to kill.

The story is extremely well paced. The killings are offstage; Hughes follows Poe and allows your imagination to fill in the blanks about what exactly is done to the female victims. There is a nice sense of growing creepiness and impending doom. She also does a good job of making Dix interesting, even as you come to think less and less of him. This is no romanticized serial killer. Although told in third person, Dix is the point of view character. Hughes does not get terribly detailed about his psychology, but she nicely handles the escalation in his behavior, showing how his increased feeling of superiority helps lead to his downfall.

Good book. And I think I'll have to see the movie again.

One thing just struck me, though, about this generation of female hardboiled writers, they had male protagonists -- Hughes, Leigh Brackett; does the same apply to Hitchens?


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