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3:AM Cult Hero: Dorothy B. Hughes


“If you act unafraid, you are not suspected of being afraid.” – The Blackbirder (1943)

Dorothy B. Hughes (1904-1993) didn’t publish her first crime story ’til she was well into her thirties (she started out as a poet and journalist), but between that story, ‘So Blue Marble’ (1940), and her retirement from the genre in 1952, she penned ten cracking novels, including three that were adapted into films: The Fallen Sparrow, Ride the Pink Horse and In A Lonely Place (filmed by Nicholas Ray in 1950 and staring Humphrey Bogart).

In A Lonely Place is her masterpiece. Told from the killer’s point-of-view, her tale – of serial killer Dix Steele, demobbed and listless in postwar L.A. – holds no punches (Bogart’s classic film is softened), her spare prose pre-dates Thomspon and Highsmith, even. It’s a fine film, but her book is better.


She stopped, though, at the peak of her career, though she continued to review films and fiction for the L.A. Times and a critical study of Erle Stanley Gardner:

“My mother was very ill and lived with me. The children were in that state of getting started in marriage, with grandchildren for me to care for. And I simply hadn’t the tranquility required to write. I wasn’t frustrated because I was reviewing mysteries, and reviewing has always been very important to me.”

Further: A brief biography / ‘An Unsung Heroine’, Sarah Weinman in Bookslut / Hughes at Persephone Books / A review of Hughes’ In A Lonely Place / Hughes at the Feminist Press.

First posted: Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011.

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