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The Expendable Man

by Dorothy B Hughes
Persephone book no:

67 68 69

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The Far Cry
A Well Full of Leaves
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ISBN 9781903155576

The Expendable Man by Dorothy B Hughes is the second thriller published by Persephone Books (our first was the very successful The Blank Wall). But it is far more than a crime novel. Just as Hughes's earlier books had engaged with the political issues of the 1940s – the legacy of the Depression, and the struggles against fascism and rascism – so The Expendable Man, published in 1963 during John F. Kennedy’s presidency and set in Arizona, evokes the emerging racial, social and moral tensions of the time.

As described by the New Yorker, "The Expendable Man begins with Dr. Hugh Densmore, a U.C.L.A. medical intern, on the road to Phoenix, headed for his niece’s wedding. On his way into Arizona, he makes the mistake of picking up a hitchhiking girl out in the desert. She’s rude and ugly and snaps the gum he gives her ungratefully. She seems to be in trouble, but even after he drops her at the bus station, he’s the one looking over his shoulder. In blank, dusty Phoenix it’s a hundred degrees every day, and Densmore changes his shirt every chance he gets. Soon the girl shows up at his motel and demands that he give her an abortion. He refuses. Then she turns up in the papers, some time after her body has been found in a canal." This is followed by an unforgettable plot twist that positions everything that's gone before in an entirely new light...

Dorothy B. Hughes began her writing career in 1940 when she was 36. In 1944 she went to Hollywood to work as an assistant on Alfred Hitchcock’s film Spellbound. ‘It was my job to sit on the set and see how he worked’; and here she met Ingrid Bergman, one result being that Humphrey Bogart bought the film rights to one of her books. This, the best and most celebrated of the Dorothy B Hughes films, was derived from her dark masterpiece, In a Lonely Place (1947).

When The Expendable Man first came out, the New York Times called it ‘Mrs Hughes’s finest work to date, of unusual stature both as a suspense story and as a straight novel’, commending its ‘unrelenting suspense, deft trickery and firmly penetrating treatment of individual and social problems.’ As a purveyor of brilliantly-constructed mid-century noir, Hughes ranks with the likes of Raymond Chandler and Patricia Highsmith, at the same time incorporating themes of race, the environment, and women's rights. She is also fascinating about Arizona in the '60s.

Also available as a Persephone eBook


Endpapers taken from a 1963 fabric by Friedlinde de Colbertado Dinzl

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Categories: Abroad America Gender and Race Men (books about) Thrillers

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