In a Lonely Place by Dorothy B. Hughes

This is the book that was chosen for me to read in the recent Classics Club Spin – a result I was very pleased with, having loved two other novels by Dorothy B. Hughes, The Expendable Man and Ride the Pink Horse (two of my books of the year in 2020 and 2021 respectively).

Originally published in 1947, In a Lonely Place is set in Los Angeles just after World War II. Dix Steele, who had served as a fighter pilot in the Air Force, is staying in an apartment belonging to an old acquaintance, Mel Terriss, who has gone to Rio for a while. Like many young men who have returned from the war, Dix has been left damaged by his experiences and is taking advantage of the peace and quiet to finish writing his new crime novel. At least, that’s what he tells people. It is quickly made obvious to the reader that the writing is a cover for something else and that Dix is actually spending his time doing something very different.

Deciding to contact a wartime friend, Brub Nicolai, who also lives in LA, Dix is surprised to learn that Brub is now working as a police detective. Brub is delighted to renew their friendship, introducing Dix to his wife, Sylvia, and telling him about the case he is investigating – a series of stranglings that have been taking place across the city. Dix is envious of Brub’s close relationship with Sylvia, which serves as a constant reminder of his own sense of loneliness and isolation. When he meets Laurel Gray, a beautiful young actress who lives in his apartment building, it seems that he has a chance to form a new relationship of his own…if Laurel can avoid becoming the strangler’s next victim.

I had high hopes for this novel and it certainly didn’t disappoint! I’ve actually found it quite a difficult book to write about because I’m not sure what would be considered a spoiler and what wouldn’t. Having said that, there’s not really a lot of mystery involved; we know from very early in the book who the murderer is – the suspense is in waiting to find out how, if and when they will get caught. However, there are still a few surprises and some revelations that don’t come until later in the story. All three of the books I’ve read by Hughes have been so much more than just straightforward crime novels; she takes us right inside the minds of her characters and although they may be damaged, unhappy and not the most pleasant of people, she makes them feel believable and real, if not exactly sympathetic!

This book is wonderfully atmospheric – dark and tense and with the reader, like Dix, wondering who can be trusted and who knows more than they’re admitting to. It’s another great read and I’ll look forward to reading more by Dorothy B. Hughes.

This is book 28/50 read from my second Classics Club list

20 thoughts on “In a Lonely Place by Dorothy B. Hughes

  1. Lark says:

    Did they make this one into a movie? The plot sounds vaguely familiar. I’m glad this turned out to be another good read from Hughes! 🙂

    • Cyberkitten says:

      In a Lonely Place is a 1950 American film noir directed by Nicholas Ray and starring Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame, produced for Bogart’s Santana Productions. The script was written by Andrew P. Solt from Edmund H. North’s adaptation of Dorothy B. Hughes’ 1947 novel of the same name.

  2. Cyberkitten says:

    A definite future purchase I think… Thanks for highlighting this classic. It looks like something I’d really enjoy.

  3. piningforthewest says:

    This is the only one by the author that I’ve read, but as you say, it is very atmospheric so I’ll be looking for more by her.

    • Helen says:

      All of the books I’ve read by Hughes have that same sort of tense, unsettling atmosphere. I hope you’re able to read more of her books soon.

    • Helen says:

      Yes, it’s great when that happens. I enjoyed the other two books I read by Hughes so much I thought this one couldn’t possibly be as good, but it was!

  4. FictionFan says:

    Glad your Spin book was a good one! I’ve seen lots of positive reviews for this one around the blogosphere so added it to my new CC list – yours is another encouragement to get to it sooner rather than later!

  5. CLM (@ConMartin) says:

    I have to admit I have never heard of this author, despite having once been a Penguin sales rep! I am very intrigued. It sounds like she’s not that much of a secret but still deserves attention.


    • Helen says:

      I first became aware of her through her book The Expendable Man, which is published by Persephone, and I couldn’t believe I’d never heard of her before! I can highly recommend any of the three books I’ve read.

  6. Anne Bennett says:

    I have got to buckle down and just read the d**m books on my Classics Club list. I like that you keep track (28 of 50 on second list) I have no idea where I am since I just sort of add and subtract from my list as I see fit. Sigh. Here is my Classics Club Spin THE SECRET GARDEN,/a>

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