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The Expendable Man

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3.93  ·  Rating Details ·  555 Ratings  ·  114 Reviews
“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. Then why does the sight of a few redneck teenagers disconcert him so? Why is he rel ...more
Paperback, 264 pages
Published July 3rd 2012 by NYRB Classics (first published 1963)
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Glenn Russell
Jul 26, 2015 Glenn Russell rated it it was amazing


If you could change one decision you made in your life, what would it be? I suspect we all could come up with an instance of "Oh, if I only knew then what I know now!" Well, Dorothy B. Hughes 1962 noir crime novel The Expendable Man features one Dr. Hugh Densmore who knows exactly what decision he would change. Driving from the UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles where he is a resident physician across the desert to Phoenix for a family wedding, Dr. Hugh, playing the part of mister nice guy, take
...more
Nancy Oakes
9781590174951
NYRB Classics, 2012
originally published 1963
245 pp


My favorite fiction is the edgy, gritty kind where some poor guy, for some reason or another, gets drawn into a hopelessly screwed-up situation and finds that it just keeps getting worse, despite everything he does to try to escape. These kinds of stories start off innocuously enough, but within just a very short time the tension starts to build, joined by a restlessness and a sense of growing trepidation, neither of which let up unt
...more
Josh
Dec 14, 2016 Josh rated it really liked it
Shelves: nyrb, 2016
(3.5) Suppose you live in a time where your race defines what type of person you are.
Suppose you live in a place where your race defines how people perceive you.
Suppose you are of a race that is looked down upon by a supposed superior one.

With the criteria above, does that make you expendable? Does that make you a good 'john' to frame for a murder? In the case of Dr. Hugh Densmore, it does.

This noir/mystery/thriller doesn't have any true twists or turns that make you think, 'hmmmm????', yet it w
...more
Jessica
Jun 29, 2012 Jessica rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A friend recommended this but there was no available copy at the library, so I checked out Hughes's first novel, The So Blue Marble, and read that while I waited for The Expendable Man to come in. Reading the author's first and then last books in succession turned out to be fascinating. The So Blue Marble was a bizarre little mystery notable for its atmospheric creepiness and nearly unbearable sense of dread. The story was silly and the whole thing didn't make too much sense, but its mood was so ...more
James Thane
Sometime in the late 1950s or early '60s, young Dr. Hugh Densmore is driving his mother's Caddliac from Los Angeles to Phoenix to attend a family wedding. Just outside of Indio, he discovers a young girl along the side of the road, apparently hoping to catch a ride. Anyone with a lick of brains, and certainly anyone who reads crime fiction understands that offering this girl a ride would be a really dumb thing to do.

It is. But Densmore does it anyway and then, of course, must spend the rest of t
...more
Drew
Sep 23, 2012 Drew rated it really liked it
For some reason I'm encountering medical students in everything I read. At any rate, pretty cool stuff. I wish I could say something about the plot, but since it's a twisty turny noir, to do so would be less than ideal. What I will say about it is that it's been a while since I started reading a book where, within a few pages, I wished for nothing more than to be able to shut out all the annoyances of real life and just read it straight through start to finish.

I do notice, however, that none of
...more
Tfitoby
Aug 29, 2014 Tfitoby rated it liked it
A fine example of classic noir with a social conscience from one of the greats of the genre. The impact of her portrait of America in the early 60s has surely been lost over the past fifty years but the bravery of challenging her readers perceptions and preconceived notions is still more than obvious. As usual she writes with a great eye for the small details and finding the humanity in her characters - whether good or bad - and the tension she creates from her protagonist's quite reasonable per ...more
Cphe
Thoroughly enjoyed this, enjoyed it far more than I initially thought I would. A split second decision and Dr Hugh Densmore knew that he would rue the day he stopped for a young woman on the side of the road.

What I enjoyed about this novel was the plausibility of the story. I think we've all made a decision on the spur of the moment - even though alarm bells are ringing but you ignore them and your decision comes back to bite you......big time.

I loved the underlying tension, disquiet of the sto
...more
Kohey
May 21, 2015 Kohey rated it really liked it
Shelves: home-library
It was a solid read. I found it really authentic,and it was based on more protagonist's inner monologues than plots,which I found intriguing.

Here are some memorable lines;

・He understood and he appreciated but he didn't tell her so.Because he couldn't   accept the intimacy which was rising between them. He couldn't endure the knowing it must lead to nothing, no more than the finality of a good-bye, it's been fun knowing you.

・The windows were painted black.Here and again on them were vivid scratc
...more
J.
Aug 02, 2012 J. rated it really liked it
Good crime novels are very often characterized by the short & sharp quality of the prose, the hard clean lines of the structure. Very much the case here, with a story that moves very quickly through an environment that is described in brief, effective strokes.

Something else, though, and that is a vein of sympathetic insight running through the necessarily noirish circumstances. Tough situations in some hard-crime novels are sometimes left a little unexamined due to the constraints of the tel
...more
Larissa
Jul 06, 2012 Larissa rated it really liked it
I picked up Dorothy B. Hughes' The Expendable Man on a whim, forgetting, actually, that I had added one of her other books, Blackbirder to my 'to-read' shelf some time ago. Primarily I was interested because it is a crime novel (by a woman) set in Arizona and from the cover description, it sounded like the main character was in some way dubious or not what he seemed--I love those unreliable narrators. About 60 pages into the book, however, my expectations were completely turned on their head in ...more
Tuck
Oct 26, 2012 Tuck rated it really liked it
Shelves: noir
noir usually has the patsie either as innocent-but-screwed, or hardon driven, or greedy, or devil may care, what have you. and then said dupe gets all sideways and violence etc ensues. dorothy hughes' noir is much more insidious, and psychological, and mysterious, though the very 1st sentence is a VERY big clue to what the evil is. so the patsie/straightman picks up a woman teenage hitchhiker who turns out to be a cockelbur in the hair you just can't get out, and makes the dupe, guilty guilty gu ...more
Peter Landau
Aug 11, 2015 Peter Landau rated it really liked it
If THE EXPENDABLE MAN was just a noir novel it’d be good. It’s well plotted, with believable characters, and follows the innocent-wronged trope that drives much such narratives. But there’s a trick at the core of this book, not a gimmick, but a turn of perspective that takes the story down a different path, one both familiar to the genre but made unique and more substantial because of that revelation. Dorothy B. Hughes uses this switch to not only add another layer of anxiety to the proceedings, ...more
Bobbi
Jun 29, 2015 Bobbi rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Why Dorothy Hughes is not as acclaimed as Raymond Chandler, I do not know. A completely different type of writer, I know, but every bit as good. Her stories are pitch perfect, her characters almost impossibly real, as if she had a means to get inside the head of every person she's met randomly on the street or sat across from on a public bus. And her unobtrusive way of describing place and time, and even the passage of time, is so complete it seems effortless. When I'm not reading one of her boo ...more
4cats
Dec 19, 2016 4cats rated it it was amazing
Shelves: own
Dr Hugh Densmore acts as a good Samaritan and picks up a hitchhiker in the middle of the desert. Iris clearly is hiding things from him, her lies stand out in their journey to Phoenix. Once there Hugh thinks her is rid of her, however when a young girls's body is found in a canal Hugh's unease heightens.

A must read, crime noir from one of the greatest writers of the genre. Filled with dread, unease and characters you care about, this novel should be read by all.
Jane
Sep 10, 2011 Jane rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
“The germ or seed was always a place, a background scene. And against that background, there began a dialogue or a monologue; whatever it was, a conversation. Then I would begin to recognise the characters. The plotting was the final step; it was people and places that interested me, not gimmicks.”

(Dorothy B Hughes in the MWA Handbook)


When I finished reading The Expendable Man and turned to the afterword it was lovely to see the author’s own words about her writing. And lovely to be able to nod,
...more
Ali
May 05, 2010 Ali rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Expendable man is a breathtaking taut 1960's thriller, using a well known plot - that of the wrongly accused man. But where I think Dorothy B Hughes novel differs from other similiar type novels is her brilliant socialogical exploration of the difficult times she was writing in. In 1963 Kennedy was president, the civil rights movement were trying to make a difference, and it was the year Martin Luther King made his iconic "I have a dream" speech. The sense of time and place is wonderful, esp ...more
TinHouseBooks
Jul 12, 2013 TinHouseBooks rated it it was amazing
Shelves: books-we-love
Tony Perez (Editor, Tin House Books): I kind of can’t believe Dorothy B. Hughes’s last novel, The Expendable Man, ever went out of print (as always: God Bless You, NYRB). I figured the story would be solid—this is the woman that wrote the source material for one of my all-time favorite films, Nicholas Ray’s In A Lonely Place—but I’ve been pleasantly surprised by her writing on a sentence level: it’s spare and moves along at a nice clip, but never verges on pulp. It’s a strange little noir, partl ...more
Jeff
Apr 02, 2013 Jeff rated it really liked it
I've always wanted to read a book by Dorothy Hughes. I'm not sure why I started with her last book, The Expendable Man (1962), except for the fact that it has been recently republished.

If her last book is any indication of her oeuvre, her work is similar in quality and style to Patricia Highsmith's.

I was floored by the revelation that comes a third of the way through the book. She so skillfully manipulates the narrative that, if you're not paying close attention, you'll get blindsided.

I would h
...more
Kathy
Jan 15, 2012 Kathy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The story begins with a man who is overly nervous, and you are not sure why. He picks up a hitch hiker and the story unfolds from there. The plot unravels in ways you don't expect - there is no typical "crazy hitch hiker" story here - just a story about a man and the presumptions made upon him.

A very tense read that makes you question the assumptions you make in literature/life. The writing makes it so you are in strong empathy with the main character, adding to the stress you feel for him as a
...more
Richard
Jan 21, 2013 Richard rated it really liked it
Excellent Noir about a doctor who picks up a mysterious girl who ends up causing him all kinds of trouble. Althought the noir/mystery elements are very well written, the twist (not so much a plot as a character twist) actually makes this much more valuable as an examination of society. Go into it knowing as little as possible and you will be rewarded.
Robin Boomer
Dec 23, 2014 Robin Boomer rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: on-the-shelf, fiction
An excellent mystery novel. The language is stripped down, the suspense feels very real and compelling, and the plot is impeccably paced. Readers will benefit from having as little knowledge as possible going into it. Recommend.
Wendy Greenberg
Mar 03, 2013 Wendy Greenberg rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Absolutely fantastic. Each page just bristles with tension...A crime novel mixed with racism of early 1960s America (LA to Phoenix) mixed with a family wedding, abortion, small town policing and much more. Well drawn characters, beautifully textured plot strung out right to the last pages.
Proustitute
A very smart, cleverly written and well paced noir. Hughes places an interesting spin on the wrong man noir genre here, with a soaring critique and indictment of societal prejudices and injustices.
Michelle
Jul 23, 2013 Michelle rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Once protagonist Dr. Hugh Densmore picks up the lone, raggedy teenage girl hitchhiker on the side of the desert highway outside Indio, California, the tension mounts quickly, as does, somewhat inexplicably, Densmore’s apparent anxiety--which is explained suddenly and deftly by a piece of dialogue more than 50 pages in. The big reveal elevates the sense of dread and produces entirely new dire consequences. More interestingly, it implicates the reader in at least one crime against Densmore. In sho ...more
Jeremy S.
Aug 28, 2012 Jeremy S. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Perhaps one of the most under-recognized writers of noir and mystery fiction, Dorothy Hughes crafts novels like no other. The layers here are much deeper than your average mystery, and this was way ahead of its time in the 1960s. A young doctor is en route from Los Angeles to Phoenix to visit family when he decides to pickup a young female hitchhiker outside a small desert town. This proves to be a terrible decision as the man quickly finds out she is nothing but trouble. Next thing you know she ...more
Michael Andreen
Jul 31, 2012 Michael Andreen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: crime
Makes me want to read In a Lonely Place. As in Highsmith, shame drives the protagonist and suspect, in this case innocent from the reader's get-go. Hughes spins the entire apparatus into a new gyroscopic orbit when she allows the action and dialogue to reveal that the Expendable Man is African-American in 1963. As one of the characters identifies, Expendable can be read as Invisible, and this Man, Hugh, has to fight the mechanism of race in the criminal justice system just as race is being adjud ...more
Tim
Jul 23, 2011 Tim rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: persephone-books
This book did nothing to alter the unblemished record of Persephone books in my eyes. I have still yet to read one of the beautiful grey volumes I didn't like. This one was gripping from the moment we meet the young intern Doctor Densmore on his journey to a family event in Phoenix. Along the way we meet the first of a number of memorable characters and the crime story unfolds with unremitting tension. Several of the characters have a life so well drawn that I would have been happy to have met t ...more
Austen to Zafón
I've read a lot of noir fiction/crime by such auhors as Raymond Chandler and James Cain, but this book was more satisfying and engaging than any I've read. Sadly, I'd never heard of Dorothy B Hughes despite the fact that she wrote some of the finest crime fiction of her (or our) day. She's now being rediscovered and this New York Review Books edition has an excellent afterward by fellow noir fiction author Walter Mosley, in which he says "She was among the best and her work belongs in our canon ...more
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NYRB Classics: The Expendable Man, by Dorothy B. Hughes 1 7 Oct 22, 2013 09:44PM  
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Dorothy B. Hughes (1904–1993) was a mystery author and literary critic. Born in Kansas City, she studied at Columbia University, and won an award from the Yale Series of Younger Poets for her first book, the poetry collection Dark Certainty (1931). After writing several unsuccessful manuscripts, she published The So Blue Marble in 1940. A New York–based mystery, it won praise for its hardboiled pr ...more
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“He'd always had a quickening of the heart when he crossed into Arizona and beheld the cactus country. This was as the desert should be, this was the desert of the picture books, with the land unrolled to the farthest distant horizon hills, with saguaro standing sentinel in their strange chessboard pattern, towering supinely above the fans of ocotillo and brushy mesquite.” 18 likes
“There were no passing cars to call out to. You couldn’t call for help from a police car, anyway; he didn’t think you could.” 4 likes
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