Sunday, 3 April 2011

Mr B's 2011 Reading Journey Book 6 (New Mexico) - The Blackbirder by Dorothy B. Hughes

Moving Westwards again in my Reading Journey I've just hurtled through New Mexico in the hands of one of the queens of American suspense, Dorothy B. Hughes.

Whilst Penguin have recently reissued her better known "In a Lonely Place" and Persephone Books have reissued her late novel "The Expendable Man" (even if Hughes does sit awkwardly alongside some of the Bloomsbury Group types that Persephone are more known for), I went for the 1943 wartime thriller published in all its retro glory by the Femme Fatales imprint of the Feminist Press at the City University of New York. Wonderful kitsch cover, wonderful that they've kept the novel in print, pity about the plethora of typos.

As you'd expect from this genre, the pace is high from minute one as heroine Julie Guille (and various pseudonyms) is forced to suddenly flee her hiding place in New York City as ghosts from her past threaten to catch up with her. Heading South to Albuquerque by train she goes in search of the whispered about "Blackbirder" who can spirit refugees like her out of America by air if the money is right. But as she travels the repeated coincidental sightings of a limping man in gray start to niggle and soon everyone she claps eyes on are potential threats - whether they're Nazis seeking to capture her and take her back to occupied France under the direction of her traitorous uncle or the police or FBI wanting to question her about the crime-scene she left behind in New York (not to mention the false passport which got her into the country).

By the time she's made it to Santa Fe, Julie is surrounded by a cast of shady characters but it remains unclear exactly who is on whose side which leads to some genuinely surprising twists and turns.

I'm no connoisseur of the pulp and American noir genres to be honest (Ed's the shop expert on that front) so all I can do is compare Hughes to a master like Raymond Chandler or an English equivalent such as Eric Ambler. Chandler beats her hands-down for dialogue and Ambler's writing as a whole is more sophisticated, BUT I must say that Hughes' plot is an absolute corker and this is quality page-turning thriller. The book also gives the reader an interesting insight into a nervous America during World War 2 and I was surprised by how much of the action in the end takes place in New Mexico (I feared a loose New Mexican connection followed by much globetrotting), with Santa Fe and it's Indian inhabitants playing a major part.

Fans of this vintage of thriller should definitely try Hughes out if they haven't already, whether it's this one or Ed's favourite The Expendable Man.

1 comment:

Nana Fredua-Agyeman said...

You made the novel come alive. Thanks for this wonderful review