Jessica's Reviews > The Expendable Man

The Expendable Man by Dorothy B. Hughes
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's review
Jun 29, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: crime-and-punishment

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 successfully disturbing that I enjoyed the book.

If her first, 1940 novel demonstrated a knack for conveying profound unease and menace, 1963's The Expendable Man showed what a mature author could do with this ability. Here, the same paranoia and premonition of evil is put to serious use -- in this novel, it actually means something significant.

A UCLA medical intern drives a white Cadillac from LA to Phoenix. Along the way he stops and picks up a dirty teenaged hitchhiker. From the moment he sees her, both the main character and reader are overwhelmed with tension and dread. We know that this girl represents a threat, that something terrible is going to happen, though we don't know what or why.

The first two chapters of this book were incredible, and the rest of it was pretty good, though not uniformly great and there were a few preoccupations that I thought weakened the book at times. Still, it's a very well-crafted novel with great prose that conveys its era vividly, and is recommended for fans of early-sixties crime and suspense.

(**Advisory: I do not recommend looking at too many reviews of this if you're thinking of reading it, since it's one of those books other people can totally screw up for you.)
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