Over the past few years I read several of Patricia Highsmith’s novels, and loved the perverse attachment to the point of view of psychopaths. She is most famous for the excellent Ripley books, of which I’ve read three, and Strangers on a Train which I also enjoyed. While Ripley’s Game is probably my favorite of hers I’ve read so far, I will never forget the shock of reading first of hers I tackled, This Sweet Sickness, which is largely from the perspective of the Platonic ideal of the man who will not take no for an answer. It seemed the prototype for so many pop culture sociopaths to come. In A Lonely Place, to my surprise, is not just the noir classic it’s reputed to be, it was also a clear model for This Sweet Sickness. If this was not one of Highsmith’s main influences, I would be incredibly surprised. This is not to take away from Highsmith’s accomplishments, which are great, but to say that this amazing novel is a remarkable precursor and does Highsmith one better so to speak.
Within the first two chapters the reader realizes that Dix Steel, introduced in the mist filled streets of LA (seriously this book reads in noir black and white), is not only a creep but a particularly brutal serial rapist and murderer called the strangler. He is staying in the abandoned apartment of an old college friend. He renews a friendship with a WWII buddy, now married, who is a detective investigating the crimes. In masterful prose, not like Hammett’s but boiled to a similar hardness, Hughes creates a tense oppressive atmosphere in service of a story that really moves. A thriller of great power. A particularly impressive aspect of the book is that, like Highsmith, it was examining toxic masculinity before examining toxic masculinity was cool. As she inhabits Dix’s perception she undercuts his attitude viciously. It’s a satire that still burns seventy three years later. All in all a great noir that deserves its reputation.
Owned But Previously Unread 2020 57/75
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