Tuesday 26 March 2013



Dix Steele is back in town, and 'town' is post-war LA. His best friend Brub is on the force of the LAPD, and as the two meet in country clubs and beach bars, they discuss the latest case: a strangler is preying on young women in the dark. Dix listens with interest as Brub describes their top suspect, as yet unnamed. Dix loves the dark and women in equal measure, so he knows enough to watch his step, though when he meets the luscious Laurel Gray, something begins to crack. The American Dream is showing its seamy underside.
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This book originally published in 1947 was the March read, as voted for by the fellow pulp fiction group members on Goodreads. I will hold my hands up and admit it hadn’t attracted my vote. (The Hot Spot – Charles Williams was my selection.) I can’t be doing with women authors!  I’m only joking; honest.........I admit I don’t read enough by them.  So it was an opportunity to, if not redress the balance at least make a tentative step in that direction.

It was enjoyable enough insofar as I was kept wondering throughout whether Steele would get away home free. We know from a very early stage that there is something screwy about him, and a lot of the narrative allows us to see things from his perspective. He masks his emotions easily and only briefly does he allow his guard to slip and allow his friend’s wife to suspect he is more than he seems.  Brub, his policeman friend seems taken in initially......dinner with good ol’ Dix, drinks with good ol’ Dix, reminiscing about their shared exploits in England during the war.

Steele, funding his pretend lifestyle as a novelist, on someone else’s dime, eventually allows his sickness and paranoia to overtake his caution. Having fallen for wannabe actress Laurel Gray, his eventual downfall is brought about in part by the sharp perceptiveness of Brub’s wife Sylvia Nicholai.

This was an interesting and enjoyable book, with an insightful portrayal of a serial killer by Hughes. Whilst most of the violence happens off-page, and may be considered tame by today’s standards it still retains the capacity to chill.

As an aside, there was a noir film noir adaptation from the book, starring Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame released in 1950. Brought out on DVD approximately 10 years ago.

4 from 5

My copy of the book was borrowed from my local library in Leighton Buzzard.

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