Dames of Crime: Dorothy B. Hughes

Dorothy B. Hughes (1904-1993) was a journalist, crime fiction reviewer and crime writer of fourteen novels in the hardboiled and noir style.

She carried her head like a lady and her body like a snake.

Dread Journey

Hughes first published book was Dark Certainty (1931) a volume of poetry, followed by Pueblo On the Mesa (1939), a history of the first fifty years of the University of New Mexico. She worked as a journalist in Missouri, New York and New Mexico and Married Levi Allan Hughes Jr. in 1932. They had two children.

By 1940 she had turned to crime with her first novel The So Blue Marble (1940), an Art Deco suspense set in the glamour and luxury of New York’s elite. Hughes then went on to write eleven novels in seven years. All bar one, Johnnie (1944) were crime novels. Influenced by writers such as Eric Ambler, Graham Greene, and William Faulkner she wrote tight suspenseful plots centred around outsiders, haunted loners, or upper-class characters involved in evil intrigues.

Once he’d had happiness but for so brief a time; happiness was made of quicksilver, it ran out of your hand like quicksilver. There was the heat of tears suddenly in his eyes and he shook his head angrily. He would not think about it, he would never think of that again. It was long ago in an ancient past. To hell with happiness. More important was excitement and power and the hot stir of lust. Those made you forget. They made happiness a pink marshmallow.

In a Lonely Place

Three of her crime novels for which she is best known were adapted for Hollywood films – The Fallen Sparrow (1943), Ride the Pink Horse (1947) and In A Lonely Place (1950) about toxic masculinity with a feminist resolution.

Hughes became a professional crime fiction reviewer around 1940 and moved to Los Angeles in 1944. She wrote for the Los Angeles Times, the New York Herald Tribune and the Albuquerque Tribune.

She was afraid. It wasn’t a tremble of fear. It was a dark hood hanging over her head. She was meant to die. That was why she was on the Chief speeding eastward. This was her bier.

Dread Journey

Her last novel, The Expendable Man was published in 1963. She continued to publish short stories and won an Edgar Award for best critical/biographical work for Erle Stanley Gardner: The Case of the Real Perry Mason (1978)

Being a poet before she began writing crime, Hughes books were known for their ominous and mournful quality of mood, infused with dread and intrigue. On their surface they had a middle class normalcy, but scratch the facade and her characters lives were full of danger, desperation and despair that unsettles the reader.

He drove until emotional exhaustion left him empty as a gourd. Until no tears, no rage, no pity had meaning for him.

In a Lonely Place

Published Books

  • Dark Certainty (1931) – poetry
  • Pueblo on the Mesa: The First Fifty Years of the University of New Mexico (1939) – non-fiction
  • The So Blue Marble (1940) – first novel
  • The Cross-Eyed Bear (1940)
  • The Bamboo Blonde (1941)
  • The Fallen Sparrow (1942) – filmed in 1943
  • The Blackbirder (1943)
  • The Delicate Ape (1944)
  • Johnnie (1944)
  • Dread Journey (1945)
  • Ride the Pink Horse (1946) – filmed in 1947
  • The Scarlet Imperial (1946)
  • In a Lonely Place (1947) – filmed in 1950
  • The Big Barbecue (1949)
  • The Candy Kid (1950)
  • The Davidian Report (1952)
  • The Expendable Man (1963)
  • Erle Stanley Gardner: The Case of the Real Perry Mason (1978) – critical biography

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