Thursday, January 10, 2019

3. Ride the Pink Horse by Dorothy B. Hughes

Dorothy B. Hughes, I am learning, was one of several popular and succesful female mystery writers from the middle of the 20th century.  It is extremely difficult to find her books today, though there are a few reprints and my library had a volume of three of her books.  Even though my on-deck shelf is full, I took it out out of fear they would get rid of it soon if it showed little activity (the english fiction shelves have limited space).  Now that I finished Ride the Pink Horse, I will return it and take it out again for each subsequent novel in the volume.  I wish I could do it on somebody else's library card.

Ride the Pink Horse takes place, I believe in Santa Fe.  It's some American city close to the border of Mexico on the weekend of a big festival called the Fiesta.  Sailor has arrived on the bus from Chicago in a hunt for The Sen, the corrupt politician/syndicate boss that plucked him out of the south side and trained him to be a smooth gangster.  As Sailor struggles to find a room (he had no idea about Fiesta), we slowly learn of the background of his beef with the Sen.  There is also a high-ranking homicide detective in town (he got a room), friendly with Sailor because he knew him also from the old neighbourhood.  The three of them circle a narrative around the murder of the Sen's wife, but really the story is about Sailor, who he is and what choices he has made and will make.

This is very much existentialist noir.  It is almost surreal, with the Mexicans and Indians representing other worlds, other histories and the Fiesta making all the scenes crowded and frenetic.  Sailor befriends the fat old man who cranks the merry-go-round the kids love to ride, who himself has had a violent path but now seems perfectly content to make the fun ride for the kids and sleep in the park.  These characters and others force Sailor to confront who he is and the journey and what holds you to the book is to see what he learns.

I tend to not go for the symbolic and prefer a concrete mystery (and there is one here).  In this case, the writing and the very real-seeming background of Sailor were strong and compelling and I thoroughly enjoyed the book.  This is literature folks and there is absolutely no reason on that merit alone that this book should not be seeing endless reprints as we see today for Chandler, Hammett, etc.  It's a shame.


Book Glutton said...

I just saw a copy of this for 50 cents on a sidewalk sale cart but passed on it. For a long time, anything pulp/noir was fun to read but in the past year or two that genre has lost all attraction to me. In fact, I've even been selling off my old pulps. I had a ton of Jim Thompson and I looked at it again and most of it left me cold. I kept a few but dumped the rest. Same for others of his ilk.

On the other hand, from a recent post of yours, R.F. Delderfield is amazing. I haven't read God is an Englishman yet but it is on my list. There's a great podcast called Backlisted ("Bringing new life to old books") and they did a great episode on To Serve Them All My Days - that was my intro to Delderfield. I don't know if you listen to podcasts or have the time but here's the link to the episode

Word of caution: I saw you had much of your 2019 reading already lined up so be careful if you do give Backlisted a listen - each episode usually makes you want to read several other books.

OlmanFeelyus said...

Your warning will be well heeded! :) I do appreciate the recommendation, though. I am definitely a big podcast listener, though not in the book realm. I am very excited to listen to this episode as I would love to learn more about Delderfield and those who read him today. Thanks!