From: Robison Michael R CNIN ( Robison_M@crane.navy.mil)
Date: 06 Dec 2002

Published in 1946, Dorothy Hughes's RIDE THE PINK HORSE is a true hardboiled noir from back when you couldn't name a half-dozen women writing in the genres. The mood is dark, the characters are tough, and the scenes are memorable.

The story opens with tough guy Sailor getting off the bus in a small Mexican-American bordertown. The town is having a multi-day fiesta, and the town is flooded with people there for the celebration. It's apparent from the beginning that Sailor is not there for fun. He's been cheated out of money for some dirty work he did for his former boss, the Senator, and now it's time to pay up. Sailor is helped by an Indian girl named Pila and a Mexican carny he calls Pancho, but his efforts to get his money are complicated when a cop who suspects foul play enters the picture.

A common plot in noir involves a protagonist making a mistake and then doing whatever he can to protect himself from the dire consequences. Of course, nothing he does saves him from doom. The first mistake seals his fate. Charles Williams's RIVER GIRL and Geoffrey Homes's BUILD MY GALLOWS HIGH are good examples.

But there's a different noir flavor where it appears that the protagonist could turn around and walk away any time, but instead he continuously makes decisions that keep him on the road to perdition. William Lindsay Gresham's NIGHTMARE ALLEY falls into this category, and so does RIDE THE PINK HORSE. The cop pleads with him to make a clean break and free himself, but Sailor is determined to blackmail the Senator.

I like this moth-to-a-flame plot. There is a strong will to survive built into people. It takes some powerful motivation to cause a person to self-destruct, and it takes a good author to explore these motivations. Hughes has got what it takes.

My only complaint is that Hughes developed dynamic and interesting relationships between Sailor, Pancho, and Pila, but their parting seems to have no significance.
  Dorothy Hughes was born in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1904, and from an early age she knew she wanted to be a writer. She graduated from the University of Missouri with a journalism degree in 1924, did graduate work in New Mexico and New York, and worked as a journalist for several years. Although she published a book of poems in 1931, her first novel, THE SO BLUE MARBLE, did not come out until 1940. Aside from being a successful mystery writer, her literary criticism garnered her a 1950 Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America.

Her two most notable novels are RIDE THE PINK HORSE, published in 1946, and IN A LONELY PLACE, published the following year. Both books were made into successful Film Noirs. From 1940 to 1979 she reviewed mystery novels for several newspapers and in 1978 she received the double honor of being named a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America and, 28 years after her first, winning her second Edgar for her critical biography of Erle Stanley Gardner, author of the Perry Mason series. Hughes died in 1993.


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