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Blackbirder, The (Femmes Fatales: Women…

Blackbirder, The (Femmes Fatales: Women Write Pulp) (original 1943; edition 2004)

by Dorothy B. Hughes

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1085111,760 (3.66)37
Title:Blackbirder, The (Femmes Fatales: Women Write Pulp)
Authors:Dorothy B. Hughes
Info:THE FEMINIST PRESS CUNY (2004), Edition: 1st Feminist Press Ed, Paperback, 235 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:2014 challenge

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The Blackbirder by Dorothy B. Hughes (1943)


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Julie is a refugee from Nazi France, hiding out illegally in the United States, when she unexpectedly runs into an old acquaintance. Not sure whether he's friend or enemy, she has a polite drink with him, after which he is murdered in front of her apartment. This sends Julie on the run to New Mexico to seek out the Blackbirder, who smuggles war refugees into and out of the US. Soon, menacing types are turning up all over the place, and Julie has to rely on her own resources to keep out of their clutches.

This was a decent thriller that probably would have made a terrific movie. It started out a bit slow but picked up momentum as it went along, and I appreciated the unusual Southwestern setting. Julie is an intriguing heroine who often has to rescue herself, but the plot did largely consist of her escaping from and then being caught by the same people. Hughes' writing is straightforward and simple, tending toward the repetitive; this book didn't seem as polished as her other novel I've read, The Expendable Man. I thought the end was pretty great, though. I read this on the Kindle, and there were a lot of conversion mistakes; all of the errors did detract from the reading experience, unfortunately. Fun escapist fare. ( )
  sturlington | Feb 27, 2017 |
Well The Blackbirder proved to be just the very thing I needed as I came to the end of my first full week back at work. A piece of brilliant, literary escapism, The Blackbirder is forties noir, by an author often acknowledged as a master of the genre. My only other experience of Dorothy B Hughes is The Expendable Man which I read a few years ago – re-issued by Persephone books if you haven’t come across it, I urge you to do so it is absolutely brilliant. Back to the Blackbirder then, a book I loved so much I immediately ordered a Penguin Classics edition of In a Lonely Place – it seems many of her books are now available only as ebooks.

“The waiter was looking at her. Not just looking. He was watching. Under black caterpillar eyebrows, his cold little black eyes were crawling on her face
She whispered, ‘the waiter is looking at me.’ For a moment she thought she had said it out loud, that Maxl had heard her. Her lips had moved but she hadn’t spoken, only to herself. She mustn’t let Maxl guess that she had noticed the waiter. Maxl might have ordered the man to watch.”

Julie Guille is in New York, having escaped from occupied Paris, she is on the run from the gestapo and the FBI – her entry into the US illegal. She has been lying low in a rented apartment, biding her time, trying to forget the girl she used to be. In Paris she had been glamorous, groomed, before she felt the need to flee from the Nazis and her malevolent guardian Uncle Paul; Duc de Guille. One night at Carnegie she runs into a young man she knew slightly in Paris, Maxl – Julie can’t be sure – was their meeting accident or design. Not everyone is who they seem, but Julie can never let her suspicions show, she agrees to a drink with Maxl, where she is convinced she is being watched by the waiter. Maxl insists on showing Julie home in a taxi, moments after Julie enters her apartment, Maxl lies dead on the pavement outside. So starts Julie’s flight from New York, aboard a train via Chicago, headed for Santa Fe, in search ultimately for the elusive Blackbirder. The Blackbirder aids refugees across the border to New Mexico, and with Maxl dead outside her apartment, and the gestapo, FBI and her guardian all looking for her, he is, Julie is convinced her best chance of escape from the US.

“She had to watch her money. Nineteen hundred to see her through. It seemed a vast sum but it wasn’t. Because she was going to some far off place called Santa Fe and she didn’t want to be inconspicuous there. She was going as Julie Guille and she hoped someone would recognize the name. Someone who watched for refugees. Someone who was blackbirding.”

santa fe trainOn board train Julie meets a kindly older woman, travelling to see her daughter who is having a baby, she is also made very aware of a man, the grey man she calls him. The grey man is always there, at every moment, is he simply making the same journey? or is he someone more sinister than that. The grey man tries to engage her in conversation, puts Julie on her guard; he seems always one step ahead.

Julie is beset with anxieties, and suspicions, but she never lets her mask slip, she‘s watchful, paranoid, very afraid of being locked up as she was in France. Who is the Blackbirder? Will she be able to find him? and will he help her, and what of her beloved cousin Fran, imprisoned last she heard, could The Blackbirder help him too?

Once in Santa Fe, Julie is astonished to see Jacques, a friend of hers and Fran who once worked for her Uncle, whose wife died helping Julie escape from France. Jacques works for a local artist Mr Popin, could he be the Blackbirder? The grey man is still on her heels, staying at the same hotel – he claims to be called Roderick Blaike, injured from the RAF and he manages to get an invitation to view Mr Popin’s artwork at his remote home in Tesuque. During a snowstorm Julie and Blaike take a bus to Tesuque to meet Mr Popin, at the back of the bus sits a man Julie recognises from the night Maxl was murdered. From here things really get tense, is anyone who they say they are? Who if anyone can Julie trust?

“Julie turned to the interior. Blaike was at her shoulder waiting for her to move. She didn’t. She looked up the short aisle at a man with a black bowler potted on his round head. He was wedged into the exact center of the long back seat. He appeared hot and cramped yet stolidly unconscious of discomfort. His thick fingers were interlaced on his knees. The lustreless black eyes didn’t move nor did they light. But he saw her. He couldn’t help but see her.”

Julie Guille is a brilliant heroine, resourceful and tough, she’s believable, and feminine without ever using her sexuality to get what she wants. The Blackbirder is a fantastic page turner, very well written with locations every bit as fascinating as the characters I was really rather sorry when it was over. ( )
  Heaven-Ali | Sep 14, 2015 |
We start the book in New York, in the company of Julie Guille, an escapee from Nazi occupied Paris. She bumps into an old acquaintance from her Paris days and when he is murdered outside her apartment she goes on the run rather than get mixed up in any investigation. Julie entered the USA illegally, via Cuba, and is a habituated fugitive. What follows is her trying to cross the country to meet with the one man she feels can help her whilst pursuit is always a possibility, from the law and from the Gestapo. This is a book that from page one is tense with a goodly dollop of suspense and paranoia & it has an utterly believable and sympathetic female protagonist. Recommended for pulp & noir fans.

Overall – Good WW2 drama from the Femmes Fatales: Women write pulp series ( )
  psutto | Mar 17, 2014 |
ulie Gill used to be a pretty little rich girl in Paris, but then the Nazi's came and she had to flee, through Europe to Cuba and illegally into North America. Heir to a fortune she hides from Nazi agents and the FBI, until a murder forces her to flee, to get out of the country fast. But only the mysterious Blackbirder can help and the cost is going to be high.

Written in 1943 this is a page turner spy thriller and a fine piece of war time propaganda unusually with a heroine at the fore front of the action. Julie is a believable everywoman too, easy to root for and it is so refreshing not to have a character that survives against ridiculous odds and never gets scared. Ok so the plot may not hold too many surprises these days but the atmosphere of loneliness and paranoia is superb. I also have to say my copy, part of the femme fatales series holds a deeply fascinating afterword on Hughes technique and it’s almost worth getting for that alone!

Recommend for lovers of spy genre, feminists and any new aspiring writers. ( )
  clfisha | Mar 21, 2013 |
This wartime tale tells the story of Julie Guille, an escapee from Nazi-occupied Paris, as she flees ahead of the police, the FBI, and the Gestapo from New York to Chicago to Santa Fe in search of the mysterious Blackbirder, said to fly refugees into and out of the US, and in hopes of rescuing her beloved cousin, who she believes to be interned somewhere in Mexico. While the story might be a little outlandish, and while (as another LTer has written) this is not "in the same class" as Hughes' The Expendable Man and In a Lonely Place, Hughes is a fabulous writer and she kept me on the edge of my seat as Julie tried to figure out who was friend and who was foe and engaged in all sorts of resourceful exploits. Maybe a little of the story was predictable, but enough wasn't to keep me avidly reading. And in the end, it is a wartime story, published in 1943, and does its bit for the war effort, just as one of my all-time favorite movies, Casablanca, does -- but with a heroine instead of a hero. A very enjoyable read.
2 vote rebeccanyc | Aug 19, 2012 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Dorothy B. Hughesprimary authorall editionscalculated
Casella, JeanForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tenzer, LiviaForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Villarejo, AmyAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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For Christine, my friend.
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The waiter was looking at her.
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Engtangled in two murders and on the run from the Gestapo, the FBI and most of all from her uncle, Julie Guille is desperate to find the Blackbirder, a sinister figure who, for a price, offers passage across the border.

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