The Expendable Man (New York Review Books Classics)
Dorothy B. Hughes
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“It was surprising what old experiences remembered could do to a presumably educated, civilized man.” And Hugh Denismore, a young doctor driving his mother’s Cadillac from Los Angeles to Phoenix, is eminently educated and civilized. He is privileged, would seem to have the world at his feet, even. Then why does the sight of a few redneck teenagers disconcert him? Why is he reluctant to pick up a disheveled girl hitchhiking along the desert highway? And why is he the first person the police suspect when she is found dead in Arizona a few days later?
Dorothy B. Hughes ranks with Raymond Chandler and Patricia Highsmith as a master of mid-century noir. In books like In a Lonely Place and Ride the Pink Horse she exposed a seething discontent underneath the veneer of twentieth-century prosperity. With The Expendable Man, first published in 1963, Hughes upends the conventions of the wrong-man narrative to deliver a story that engages readers even as it implicates them in the greatest of all American crimes.
close he was to danger. When he heard the telephone ringing, he came awake at once as he was trained to wake, quietly, completely. He saw that it was morning. He was almost afraid to lift the phone from its cradle. When his mother’s voice responded to his hello, he drew a deep breath. “Did I wake you, Hugh?” “That’s all right. What time is it?” His watch was on the table. “Ten o’clock. I wouldn’t have called but I’ve an endless list of things Stacy wants done. She and Edward dropped me here at
telephone. He didn’t have the strength now to go into it. A realization came suddenly: it might not be safe to talk over this phone. He didn’t know how far or how deep the detectives’ suspicions extended. They could have a monitor on the switchboard. Hugh undressed. He couldn’t solve his problems tonight. Perhaps in the morning he could figure out what he should do. When he woke, it was not completely but in a blur. He wondered if he’d missed the bells, wondered at the lazy euphoria which
strong, true. There was no change in the attitude of the three men. They’d been conditioned to the guilty as well as the innocent forthright denials. He might just as well have saved his breath. He continued passionately, “I’m a doctor. I’ve sworn the Hippocratic oath. Under no circumstances that I can think of, would I violate that oath.” “But you weren’t surprised,” Ringle said flatly. “No, I wasn’t surprised. What did surprise me in the report was that her death was caused by concussion, not
connection with her death.” Venner’s chair clicked to the floor. “If you’re so all-fired innocent, seems funny you’d hire that big-shot lawyer, Skye Houston, to defense you.” Hugh couldn’t contain his anger. “I hired him to try to get a fair deal, not to be railroaded for a murder I know nothing about. Just because I’m convenient.” Venner snapped, “Don’t get huffy with me, black boy. It don’t pay.” He said insolently to Hackaberry, “Black boy’s got a temper, hasn’t he?” The marshal choked, “I
Venner ate dead crow. Slowly he started to push himself to his feet. He wavered and caught onto the door frame. The young officer was quickly at his side. “Don’t you think you’d better let me get you to a hospital?” he appealed. “It won’t be necessary.” His entire body agonized with the pain; he didn’t know if he could make it but he must. To remain under police jurisdiction meant under Venner. “My head’s clear. It’s just that I took a thumping.” He pushed shut the rear door of the car. The