In a Lonely Place Paperback – Nov 1 2003
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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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Top Customer Reviews
Quite unlike the famous (and excellent) movie based on the book, both in plot and in mood.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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.
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.