The So Blue Marble by Dorothy B. Hughes – #1940Club

I’ve read and loved three books by Dorothy B. Hughes – The Expendable Man, Ride the Pink Horse and In a Lonely Place, all of which featured on my books of the year list in the respective years in which I read them – so when I was looking for possible titles to read for Karen and Simon’s 1940 Club my eye was immediately drawn to The So Blue Marble. Published in 1940 (obviously), this was Hughes’ first novel and although it doesn’t feel as elegant and polished as her later ones, it’s still very enjoyable.

Twenty-four-year-old Griselda Satterlee has abandoned a promising career as an actress and returned home to New York to start a new life as a costume designer. Walking along Fifth Avenue one night on her way back to her ex-husband Con’s apartment, where she is staying in his absence, she is accosted by two young men who force their way into the apartment with her. The men, whom she later learns are twins Danny and David Montefierrow, seem to know all about Griselda, although she’s sure she’s never met them before. However, it’s not Griselda herself that they are interested in – all they are looking for is a blue marble, which they insist must be somewhere inside the apartment.

Griselda has no idea why they are so desperate to find the blue marble – the very blue marble or the so blue marble, as they always describe it – but she is determined that, whether it’s in Con’s apartment or not, it must not fall into the hands of the twins. But David and Danny are equally determined to obtain it and will stop at nothing to get hold of it, including murder.

This book doesn’t seem to be very highly thought of by Hughes readers – there are lots of one and two star reviews on Goodreads – and I can understand why, but I did still enjoy it. It’s true that the plot is ridiculous, yet I don’t think it’s intended to be taken too seriously and if you go into the book prepared to accept it for what it is, The So Blue Marble is a lot of fun to read. It’s also quite creepy in places – the Montefierrow twins, identical but for their different coloured hair and eyes, who charm everyone else around them and move in the highest circles of society, make very sinister villains, as does Missy, Griselda’s teenage sister, who arrives from Paris and becomes caught up in the search for the marble.

Although I would describe this book as more of a thriller, there’s still a sense of mystery surrounding the importance of the very blue marble and why so many people are so keen to find it. Once these questions have been answered, I felt that things began to fall apart slightly and the story lost some of its impetus. Still, there’s plenty of suspense from beginning to end, some unexpected plot twists and some characters who are not quite what they seem, all of which makes this a very entertaining read.

If you’re new to Hughes, don’t start here – start with one of the other three books I’ve mentioned instead, but if you’re ready to explore some of her lesser known work this one is definitely worth reading. I’ve discovered that Hughes also wrote a second novel featuring Griselda Satterlee, The Bamboo Blonde, which I’ll have to look for at some point.

On Monday I reviewed The Bird in the Tree by Elizabeth Goudge.

And here’s my list of previous 1940 reads.

18 thoughts on “The So Blue Marble by Dorothy B. Hughes – #1940Club

  1. Cyberkitten says:

    Interesting! As a lover of all things Noir I’ll check Ms Hughes out. Plus thanks for alerting me to yet another Classic series – American Mystery Classics. There’s QUITE a collection of them!! [grin]

    I am rather missing the Noir feel presently…. [muses]. Time to dig out some hard-boiled novels, I think!

    • Helen says:

      In a Lonely Place is the most Noirish of the Hughes books I’ve read, but all of them are excellent. I haven’t really had time to delve properly into the American Mystery Classics series, but there are lots of intriguing titles and authors there!

  2. Janette says:

    This was my book last night and I’ve just posted my review 😃I really enjoyed it and thought that the opening section was excellent with a real sense of menace. I haven’t read any others by the author but will certainly look out for the ones you mention.

    • Helen says:

      Yes, that opening section was great – very atmospheric. I enjoyed it but I thought the other three I’ve read were much better, so you have a lot to look forward to!

  3. Lark says:

    My library has this book by Hughes and also Dread Journey. She’s an author I’d like to try someday. And I do like these older mysteries. I’m glad you were able to enjoy this one despite its flaws.

  4. byrnerd says:

    Just had to say – I love opening my inbox and finding a fresh email from you. I don’t open it immediately but save it as a treat for when the humdrum messages have been dealt with because I know I will be disappearing down various rabbit holes!

    Thank you

    Margy ________________________________

  5. tracybham says:

    Very nice review. I wanted to check out your review of this book after finishing mine. I had such a hard time with it, the plot was hard to summarize. But I enjoyed the book. It was not as good as the three others by Hughes that I have read but I have yet to read one of her books that I did not like.

    • Helen says:

      Thanks! I agree that it wasn’t an easy book to write about. I’m glad you enjoyed it – it’s the weakest of the four books by Hughes I’ve read, but still very entertaining.

  6. heavenali says:

    When I was looking for things to read for the 1940 club I considered this one, having liked other books by Dorothy B Hughes. It did sound a bit unusual, though, so I ended up not getting it. It does sound unusual, but also rather entertaining. Perhaps not as good as some of her books.

    • Helen says:

      It was quite different from the other books I’ve read by Hughes, but still very entertaining. It seems to have been a popular choice for 1940 Club.

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