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The expendable man by Dorothy B. Hughes

The expendable man (original 1963; edition 1963)

by Dorothy B. Hughes

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2281350,815 (4.02)88
Title:The expendable man
Authors:Dorothy B. Hughes
Info:New York : New York Review Books, 2012.
Collections:Your library, Ebooks, Read but unowned
Tags:American, 20th Century, Mystery, NYRB

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The Expendable Man by Dorothy B. Hughes (1963)

  1. 00
    Pick-Up by Charles Willeford (sturlington)
    sturlington: The conceit of these two books is similar, although the Hughes novel is a better read.

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Hugh Densmore is driving from L.A. to Phoenix for his niece's wedding when he picks up a hitchhiker. The girl is on her way to Phoenix to meet her aunt. Hugh suspects she is a runaway. Then the Phoenix papers report that a girl has been found dead in a canal, and it sounds a lot like the hitchhiker. And it seems as though Hugh is being stitched up for a role in her death.

This was one of those highly suspenseful books where you can't put it down, because you want to find out what happens, but at the same time you have to put it down in order to breathe. Both the plot and the setting contribute to the sense of breathlessness; Phoenix in the summer is captured vividly, with the intense, seething heat that builds early in the morning and doesn't let up until well after sundown.

There were a few moments where Hugh makes plans to do some investigating on his own to clear his name, and you want to shout at the book "Don't do it!" as if it were a horror movie with a character planning to go down to the basement.

Although this book was written in the early 1960s, it talks about issues that are still highly relevant today (sadly). The afterword in the Persephone Books edition is worth reading in that regard. Dorothy B. Hughes is an excellent suspense writer and deserves to be (re)discovered and appreciated. ( )
1 vote rabbitprincess | Jan 7, 2017 |
A young doctor driving from California to a family wedding in Phoenix, Arizona, sees a teenage girl hitchhiking on a desert road and stops to pick her up, setting in motion a chain of events that will have him suspected of murder when her body turns up a few days later.

The "expendable man" of the title refers of course to the protagonist, who becomes the wrong man conveniently accused of murder for reasons that the reader is not let in on until about 50 pages into the book. The suspense comes in following the doctor as he tries desperately to clear his name before he is arrested, which would ruin his burgeoning career even if he did avoid prison. This is a taut, cleanly written thriller that moves relentlessly forward and allows readers a glimpse into a world that is usually not explored in crime noir. I suspect it would have been even more exotic and galvanizing for readers in Hughes' day than it is now. Hughes also creates a wonderful sense of place with her Phoenix setting, a desert town on the verge of becoming urban. This was an interesting read, if a little dated, although I felt it could have been a bit more subtle and multilayered, not quite so straightforward in terms of good guys and bad. I expect for its time, though, it needed to be. ( )
  sturlington | Jan 9, 2016 |
A very smart, cleverly written and well paced noir. Hughes places an interesting spin on the wrong man noir genre here, with a soaring critique and indictment of societal prejudices and injustices. ( )
  proustitute | Jul 17, 2014 |
Dr. Hugh Densmore, a U.C.L.A. medical intern is on his way to his nieces wedding, when against his better judgement (and his creepy paranoia) he picks up a young girl hitch hiking in the dessert. It's not going to go well is it?

It may have been a trope even then, the innocent(?) man fighting to clear his name, but Hughes twists it then imbues it with quiet menace that simply and insidiously oozes of the page. You may see the girls fate but what Densmore actually fears, his paranoia and his nods to his past are kept hidden and then hook you in before.. well that would a spoiler. This tenseness is kept up pretty much throughout the entirety of the book. It’s gripping because you care and because of the stakes. It’s not a why or whodunit it’s a subversion of thought and touched with social commentary and excitement as the best crime novels are.

The trap might be sprung by his picking up the girl; they might swing about and come after him. Only when the car had disappeared from sight, did he relax and immediately feel the fool. It was surprising what old experiences remembered could do to a presumably educated, civilized man.

It's a shame I am not going to discuss that spoiler because this is where Hughes writing really shines. This is why you want to read the book, this tenacious look at a different very real kind of evil. Still if a review or intro does spoil it is still worth seeking out, certainly not a one trick pony.

I can't really fault it. Or rather its faults don't matter to me. Sometimes heavy handed; a repetitive under current of jealously say or slightly too much goodness to shadow the dark. Also the bad elements only occasional break out of stock character but I suspect this is probably intentional, the relentless repetitiveness of crimes is just one theme of the book.

Highly recommended to crime lovers. Hughes is an author I am going collect; I liked the patriotic [The Blackbirder] and I really enjoyed this! ( )
  clfisha | Aug 9, 2013 |
A tense page-turner, this book has a twist about 1/3 of the way through which is subtly done, fits well with what came before and changes the direction of the book. The whole book, even the parts where the characters are doing mundane things, is very suspenseful because you never know what’s going to happen. It opens with Hugh Densmore driving to Phoenix for his niece’s wedding. He’s a medical intern, poor and careful, but also from a comfortable, loving, supportive family with deep roots in Phoenix. In an out-of-character move, he picks up a young female hitchhiker. Hugh finds her hard to comprehend as she’s sly and manipulative and he can’t believe that her family could be so neglectful. He finally drops her off in Phoenix but has uncomfortable feelings that his good deed will come back to haunt him – he’s proven right when she turns up murdered. From then on, Hugh, though innocent, is constantly on the line between innocence and guilt – he wonders if he’s acting the way an innocent man would, tries to keep his family from discovering that he’s under suspicion, and when the investigators start to focus on him, he is forced to try to discover the truth. The writing is tight and nicely characterizes the thoughts of an accused but innocent man. Hughes also captures the heat and occasionally the claustrophobia of Phoenix as well as an America on the brink of change. Recommended. ( )
  DieFledermaus | Jan 1, 2013 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Dorothy B. Hughesprimary authorall editionscalculated
Moseley, WalterAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Book description
Hugh Denismore, a young doctor driving his mother's Cadillac from Los Angeles to Phoenix, reluctantly picks up a runaway teenage girl hitchhiking.  When she is found dead a few days later, he is, for reasons unknown -- or are they? -- the first suspect.
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Hugh Densmore, a young intern, becomes obsessed with solving the murder of Iris, a young hitchhiker whom he turned away when she asked him for help.

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