by Dorothy B. Hughes
She was greedy and callous and a bitch, but she was fire and a man needed fire.
Dix Steele is enjoying a year off in California on his rich Uncle’s dime in order to write a book. He stumbles across Brub, an old service-buddy who’s now a detective, and learns a few details of an ongoing, escalating case of murder by strangulation, now thought to be the work of a serial killer. Shortly afterward he meets a knockout redhead, Laurel, living in his same building, and the unlikely pair start a whirlwind romance.
As the two get to know each other, as the detective doggedly pursues his killer and as the body count rises, Dix remains calm while the readers’ nerves are shredded.
Alright, first things first. The film, In A Lonely Place, one of the greatest of all the films noir (and my favorite), actually bears little resemblance to this novel. Some of the bones remain, but the film was obviously heavily rewritten in terms of story structure, far beyond the scope of most novel adaptations. So set the film aside right from the beginning; you’re in for a drastically different ride here.
This book utilizes tension in a way very few writers can touch. Since it’s told only from the perspective of Dix, we get an intense look into the mind of a man who’s decided work is beneath him and his rightful place is clubbing with society’s rich and leisurely—a man thoroughly convinced of his own superiority.
The lightning romance between Dix and Laurel, a relationship that would be challenging under the best of circumstances, combined with Dix’s attitude, Brub’s increasing suspicions of Dix himself and bits of info dropped along the way, leaves your stomach in knots.
In A Lonely Place is a master class in nervous energy and an incredible crime novel.
No one had noticed any cars parked along the beach road that night. No one had noticed anything. They never did.