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In a Lonely Place [Paperback]

Dorothy B. Hughes , Paula Rabinowitz
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Nov. 1 2003 Femmes Fatales

"Puts Chandler to shame . . . Hughes is the master we keep turning to."—Sara Paretsky, author of the V. I. Warshawski novels

"A superb novel by one of crime fiction's finest writers of psychological suspense. . . . What a pleasure it is to see this tale in print once again!"—Marcia Miller, author of the Sharon McCone novels

"This lady is the queen of noir, and In a Lonely Place is her crown."—Laurie R. King, author of the Mary Russell novels

Postwar Los Angeles is a lonely place where the American Dream is showing its seamy underside—and a stranger is preying on young women. The suggestively names Dix Steele, a cynical vet with a chip on his shoulder about the opposite sex, is the LAPD's top suspect. Dix knows enough to watch his step, especially since his best friend is on the force, but when he meets the luscious Laurel Gray—a femme fatale with brains—something begins to crack. The basis for extraordinary performances by Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame in the 1950 film version of the book, In a Lonely Place tightens the suspence with taut, hard-boiled prose and stunningly undoes the convential noir plot.

Femmes Fatales restores to print the best of women’s writing in the classic pulp genres of the mid-20th century. From mystery to hard-boiled noir to taboo lesbian romance, these rediscovered queens of pulp offer subversive perspectives on a turbulent era. Enjoy the series: Bedelia; The Blackbirder; Bunny Lake Is Missing; By Cecile; The G-String Murders; The Girls in 3-B; In a Lonely Place; Laura; Mother Finds a Body; Now, Voyager; Skyscraper; Stranger on Lesbos; Women's Barracks.

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About the Author

Dorothy B. Hughes (1904-93) was born in Kansas City, Missouri, and lived most of her life in New Mexico. A journalist and a poet, she began publishing hard-boiled crime novels in 1940, three of which were made into successful films: The Fallen Sparrow (1943), Ride the Pink Horse (1947) and In a Lonely Place (1950). In her later years, Hughes reviewed crime novels for the LA Times, the New York Herald Tribune and other papers. She was named a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

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5.0 out of 5 stars Undervalued Classic II Jan. 10 2004
I wish to associate myself with the excellent review and comments of the esteemed reviewer from New York. A very fine book, timeless in its readability and thematic approach and yet fascinating in its description of a post-WWII City of Angels. A great enough read for me to want to track down more of Ms. Hughes' works and learn more about her life. If you are into noir, at some point you need to read this book to complete your perspective.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Creepy, and quite unlike the movie Feb. 17 2004
An effectively creepy and believable portrait of a rage-driven serial killer.
Quite unlike the famous (and excellent) movie based on the book, both in plot and in mood.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  20 reviews
48 of 50 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hard-boiled and scary because of its understatement April 27 2004
By abt1950 - Published on Amazon.com
"In a Lonely Place" is a neglected classic of American crime fiction. Harder than hard-boiled, it follows the actions of a vicious serial killer in post-war Los Angeles. The antihero, Dixon Steele, maintains the appearance of an average guy while periodically venting his anger and hatred of women by raping and strangling random girls that he picks up. Through the course of the book, he plays a cat-and-mouse game with his old army buddy, now a detective, who has been assigned to solve the case.
Published in 1947, "In a Lonely Place" is different from much of today's standard serial killer fare. Unlike books such as "Hannibal" or "Red Dragon," all the violence occurs offstage, during gaps in the narration. But that doesn't make it any less scary--in fact, it ups the creepiness quotient considerably. Hughes tells her story from the point of view of the "perp" himself, with all the events filtered through Steele's eyes and thoughts. Normal in the book is what's normal to the killer whose solitary, predatory nature places him "in a lonely place" outside of the rest of humanity. His anger, his misogyny, his hatred of those richer than he, and his sense of entitlement justify his actions in his own mind. By keeping the gore offstage, the author maintains the focus on the killer's twisted mind, which is where the true horror lies.
"In a Lonely Place" was made into a movie in 1950 starring Humphrey Bogart (who else?) and Gloria Grahame. The film kept some of the elements of the book, but switched the focus to domestic violence. Dark as the film is (and it's a masterpiece of film noir), the book is even darker. If you're looking for a play-by-play novelization of the movie, this isn't it. But if you're looking for a character study of a killer's mind, then turn on the night light and dig in.
29 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Undervalued classic March 25 2003
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
How is it that Dorothy B. Hughes's great suspense novels of the 1940s have fallen into oblivion? This is clearly a situation for a nervy publisher like Godine or Dalkey Archive to rectify, as the more conventional ones, like Vintage, remain clueless. And here's a good place to begin. Written in 1947, In a Lonely Place was one of the first American novels to broach the subject of a serial killer--it was instantly followed by a host of imitators in the late '40s and early '50s. (Other than the Belloc-Lowndes The Lodger, a 1912 UK novel, the theme had been long neglected.) Hughes's approach is psychological stream-of-consciousness; she traces the cat and mouse game of the sociopathic Dix Steele who, reuniting with an old war buddy turned cop, comes along for the chase to find the murderer. If you know the great Nicholas Ray film with Bogart, don't expect much resemblance--Ray took only the title and the names of most of the characters. Though like the movie, the novel is a brilliantly claustrophobic look at LA in the postwar years. The violence is offstage, the pathology on. Hughes's ability to penetrate a man's mind is remarkable and never less than credible. She wrote only a handful of books (The Fallen Sparrow, Ride the Pink Horse, and The Davidian Report are her other benchmark novels) but they deserve a closer look--they are compulsively readable, prophetic, and apparently timeless.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars In A Creepy Place Sept. 29 2012
By M. G Watson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I love re-reading books, but I doubt I'll ever give IN A LONELY PLACE a second go. Not because it's a dull story or a badly written novel, but because in a sense it's almost too effective. Author Dorothy Hughes' venture into the mind of a serial killer in post-WW2 Los Angeles is gripping noir, but also mentally and morally exhausting. I may be slightly prejudiced because I happen to live almost exactly in the neighborhood where most of this novel takes place, but regardless of the reason, the book still kinda made me want to scrub out my brain after I finished it.

IN A LONELY PLACE is the story of Dickson Steele, an ex-Air Force pilot who has come to Los Angeles with many secrets, not the least of which is that his hobby is raping and murdering women. When he runs into his old war buddy Brub Nicolai, he's at once alarmed and thrilled by the discovery that Brub has become a detective in the Beverly Hills police department, and is trying to solve the very murders that he, Dix, is committing. While enjoying what he sees as a a kind of ongoing in-joke at his friend's expense, Dix soon develops an attraction to a wanna-be actress in his apartment complex named Laurel Gray, but Laurel's presence in Dickson's life throws him off his game. On the one hand, he genuinely loves the hard and sultry Laurel; on the other, he genuinely hates women - especially Brub's attractive and too-shrewd wife, Sylvia. And when Dix Steele feels stress, his only relief is indulging in his hobby.

IN A LONELY PLACE is in many ways classic noir. It was written in 1947, and a sense of postwar disappointment pervades every page, along with a feeling that Dickson somehow represents the stereotype of the midcentury American male gone horribly wrong. In one sense has all the traits associated with maniless - a danger-loving loner who drinks hard, loves hard, wears the right clothes, drives the right car and plays by his own rules, he could be the archetypal hero of any hundred detective or adventure novels, except that each of these traits is as twisted as a corkscrew. His daredevilry takes the form of a sick cat-and-mouse game played for cheap thrills, his sexuality is mixed up with misogyny and sadism, and his easygoing lifestyle is predicated on theft and parasitism. As for playing by his own rules, they amount to to thinking, apropos of one of his victims, "the only exciting thing that had ever happened to her was to be raped and murdered." Being inside his mind is a grim and disheartening experience, a sort of tour-de-force of the worst aspects of human desires. In a sense he's a kind of metaphor for frustrated Hollywood types who are long on ambition but short on talent and scruples. And this is the novel's strength as well as its weakness, because Dix is such a total rotter that after a while you just want to put the book down and take a shower. And yet it's a testament to the strength of Hughes' cool, cynical, intensely personal prose that you don't put the book down. You have to keep reading, keep peeling back the layers of this rotten onion to see if there's anything at the core. Whether Hughes delivers that last explanatory kernel a matter of opinion; Dix's final utterance could be seen as an unsatisfying cop-out or a brilliant bit of existential simplicity. Who knows? Maybe I'll have to read the damned thing again after all, just to decide.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Definitely Worth the Read July 23 2008
By Rachel Smith - Published on Amazon.com
Dorothy B. Hughes is certainly a powerful (and sadly over-looked) writer. In "In a Lonely Place" she depicts a vivid, hypnotic vision of post-WW2 LA, and she draws a scarily realistic and sometimes sympathetic portrait of "protagonist" Dix Steele. The novel is notable for its narrative twists & turns, its suspense (that most of the 'action' is not explicity show is both terrifying and brilliant, from a technical standpoint), and its tendency to turn both traditional noir structure and stock characters on their heads, so to speak. If you like noir or Cold War-era-informed fiction, give the unusual, the compelling, and the bone-chilling "In a Lonely Place" a chance.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Noir fiction April 14 2006
By Michael D. Bigham - Published on Amazon.com
Great mystery tale told from the point of view of a bad guy. Although somewhat forgotten today, Hughes was a superstar writer in her time. Her novels had been adapted into movies for Robert Montgomery and Humphery Bogart. Compelling fiction with strongly drawn characters. Highly recommended.
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