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The Expendable Man

4.03  ·  Rating details ·  1,457 ratings  ·  249 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, even. Then why does the sight of a few redneck teenagers disconcert him? Why is he ...more
Paperback, 339 pages
Published 2006 by Persephone Books (first published 1963)
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Average rating 4.03  · 
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 ·  1,457 ratings  ·  249 reviews

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Glenn Russell
Jul 26, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

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
Bill Kerwin

Because I hate spoilers, but also have a visceral loathing for spoiler alerts, I can’t say much about this wonderful book without giving too much of it away. But if I’m careful, I think I can say something.

It tells a story us the story of Hugh Densmore, a young doctor with an internship at U.C.L.A., who—in the summer of 1962—is driving through the New Mexico desert on his way to a niece’s wedding in Phoenix. Against his better judgment, he picks up a young girl hitchhiking in an isolated spot, a
May 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Much has been said about this novel, and there's much I can't say without spoiling things, so let me keep this short and somewhat annoyingly abstract. This is an incredibly prescient novel written at a time of simmering racial tension in the US (though sadly that's probably been true of every time in US history). The prose has all the gleaming precision of poetry, which is not surprising given that Dorothy Hughes' first book was a volume of verse, part of the Yale Younger Poets series. The noir- ...more
Nancy Oakes
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
Dec 14, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
WOW. This book is stunningly good - thrilling, fast-paced, and incredibly well-written. It's a book that you should know very little about before you start reading. It's set in 1960s Arizona and follows Hugh Denmore, who is accused of a crime that he didn't commit. All you need to know is that if you like noir, classic mystery, or novels with a strong sense of place, you will like this book. I devoured it. Is it too early to start listing my favorite books of 2021?? ...more
James Thane
Nov 30, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: crime-fiction
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
Oct 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: reviewed
Venner departed with the hate still ugly in his eyes, with more hate for an innocent Hugh than for a guilty. The Venners would not be changed in their generation.

I'm not going to provide many plot details for this book as I found it hugely beneficial to know next to nothing about this book.
Every reveal, every additional detail that Hughes affords the reader changed the context of the story and how I read this. She did this masterfully.

It is very much a story of telling you the facts, then chan
Jun 03, 2021 rated it liked it
Having read and enjoyed Hughes 1947 classic of fog and highballs - In a Lonely Place I was interested in trying more of this, underappreciated, authors work.

The Expendable Man is set in the suffocating heat and simmering racial tensions of 1960s Arizona. The book is very much of the period and yet a few tweaks and it could be a story lifted from today's headlines. It an extraordinary forward-looking work for a book published in 1963. Hughes accomplishes a rather neat authorial trick early on
Jun 23, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: rejected
Dated, frustrating, slow and dull, "innocent man framed" bull crap. Plus a "twist" which is painfully dated now. Condescending in an unknowingly superior, "preachy" way. Stupid plot events, clichéd characters, unlikely actions.

I felt manipulated from page 10.

Hated it.
Jun 29, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Sep 23, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Rich, deadly noir written on a knife edge. Hughes highlights the need for safe, accessible abortions for any person who needs them and exposes the biases of white readers (view spoiler) ...more
May 21, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
We Are All Mad Here
Now that I own and have read my first Persephone I feel like I have joined a very brilliant club. This book was unsettling, particularly after around a quarter of the way in, when you start questioning yourself as well as the characters. I can't say why. You will have to join the club to find out. ...more
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
Bonnie Brody
May 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
Dorothy B. Hughes, author of The Expendable Man and the mother of noir mystery, gives us a marvelous book that tackles several social issues including racism in the south during the 1960's, abortion, police profiling, and socioeconomic privilege.

The novel starts off with Hugh Densimore, a medical intern at UCLA, picking up a young female hitchhiker on his way to visit family in Phoenix. As he asks her questions about herself, he becomes aware that she is an accomplished liar. He drops her off in
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
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
Katie Long
Dec 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
I love the way this is written, especially the unsettling way that Hughes challenges the reader’s assumptions. She also writes about the ways class and race affect the justice system in a way that is every bit as relevant now as it was when she wrote it more than fifty years ago. I only wish the mystery itself had a little more bite and, well, mystery.
Aug 02, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 telling
Geo Forman
Jan 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
I would like to read a review of this when it was first published 50 odd years ago. A young intern is mixed up in a murder as a result of him naively giving a young female hitchhiker a ride. The doctor is guilty until proven innocence and he needs to take it upon himself to prove his innocence.
I found it more disturbing as a comment on society than a mystery but I wonder how it was received at publication
Andy Weston
Nov 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: crime, noir
Set between Los Angeles and Phoenix / Scottsdale Arizona in 1963, Hughes’s novel is firmly rooted in the politics of the day, centred as it is around issues of race and abortion. From the outset, as the young intern Doctor drives to his family wedding, there is a sense of tension and oppression. He seems more than a little uptight; more than a little fearful; perhaps, even a little prone to suspicion and paranoia. The reader must assume he is a good man, and having picking up the stranded teenag ...more
Five exuberant stars. I’ve never been so completely transported to another city, another psyche. Well worth the emotional exhaustion, to experience such magic.
Oct 26, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
tortoise dreams
Oct 13, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Too much to say, so I'm going to try bullet points.
>It's necessary to spoil this book to discuss it, but I'm not going to do that -- it's too good. Suffice to say, this is one book for three pages. Then becomes another book on p.43, yet another on p.55, and on like that. Dorothy B. Hughes (1904-1993) takes us on a series of sudden turns, which enlighten the previous pages and foretell more perilous moments ahead.
>Hughes wrote In a Lonely Place and there's a homicide and a search for the murdere
Jan 25, 2021 marked it as to-read
Recommended to Chrissie by: Tom
Shelves: mystery, classics, noir
Jan 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This would have been a great novel for Hitchcock to film, sort of like The Wrong Man with overtones of racism and police intransigence. A young black doctor is driving in a white Cadillac from Los Angeles, where he is an intern at UCLA Medical Center, to Phoenix. He makes the mistake of picking up a teenage female hitchhiker around Indio. When her body is found in a canal near Scottsdale, suspicion falls on the doctor, especially when it appears the girl has had a cheap abortion.

Not only are the
Jun 29, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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
Peter Landau
Aug 11, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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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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