Nostalgia City Mysteries

Mark S. Bacon

Tag Archives: noir

Ride the Pink Horse for an intimate profile and emotional journey

Ride the Pink Horse
Dorothy B. Hughes
208 pages Road   June 18, 2013
Originally published,  1946
$1.99 Kindle

A drunken, overweight, apparently homeless man who sleeps on the ground under a dirty serape and rarely washes is the moral authority in Sailor’s life.   Referred to only by his nickname, Sailor arrives in Santa Fe, New Mexico on a bus from Chicago.  He’s tailing his boss, corrupt former Illinois Senator Willis Douglas who has gone west with a beautiful young woman and a retinue to escape turmoil generated by his wife’s murder.

Sailor’s packing a gun along with a load of prejudice and delusion.

Hot and dirty Santa Fe is filled with hayseeds and yokels.  A hick town. Sailor is repelled by the populace.  Mexicans and Indians mostly, who he refers to in vile, insulting terms.   Not out loud of course, “this wasn’t the time or place.”

He’s come to town to have a showdown with his boss who he refers to simply as the Sen.  The Sen owes him money.  The murder of Mrs. Douglas was bungled.  She died, but not according to plan.  Other members of Sailor’s Chicago gang have high-tailed it out of town, Ziggy down to Mexico where Sailor plans to meet up with him.  With cash from the senator, Sailor and Ziggy can start some business, some scam in Mexico and live high.

In Ride the Pink Horse, a 1946 crime novel by noir writer Dorothy B. Hughes, the New Mexico environs play a strong role.  The multi-ethnic culture and the small dusty western town that vexes Sailor contributes to Hughes’ heavy themes.

Before Sailor can track down the senator, he has to find a place to stay for the night in this “God-forsaken town.”  He discovers that Santa Fe—never identified by name in the book—is crowded with people in town to celebrate the Fiesta weekend.  No hotel rooms are available anywhere.  Sailor becomes frustrated, angry and disdainful but at the same time disoriented and fearful.  His suitcase becomes a heavy burden.  He’s haunted by the eyes of the Indians he passes in the street. Continue Reading →

‘Deadline at Dawn’ is nonstop noir


New York City has Bricky Coleman in its clutches. The small-town girl came to the city to become an actress, but it didn’t work out. Now she’s a dime-a-dance girl living in a dingy walk-up, bereft of spirit and hope. One evening she dances with Quinn Williams, another small-town transplant with equally dismal prospects. Somehow Quinn manages to erode Bricky’s layers of cynicism and suspicion and they become friends and allies in solving a dangerous puzzle.

Like most Cornell Woolrich novels, this one is dark and fast moving. The entire book occupies only a few early morning hours. Getting around a burglary and solving a murder stand in the way of the two young protagonists’ escape from their dismal lives.   An early coincidence and one or two later plot twists require a significant suspension of disbelief, but you sign on quickly because the dark corners of the city and its malevolent denizens are easily accepted as Woolrich draws you and his young protagonists into a race against the clock.Deadline at Dawn

The atmosphere is thick. Bricky looks up a dark street.   “Three anemic light-pools widely spaced down its seemingly endless length did nothing to dilute the gloom; they only pointed it up by giving contrast.” For Bricky, the main enemy isn’t a lurking murderer, it’s the city itself. It wants to possess her and grind her down. The young protagonist’s unhuman nemesis is similar to a lead character’s unnatural fear of the stars in the sky in Woolrich’s Night Has a Thousand Eyes. Merciless, mysterious forces conspiring to thwart success is a common Woolrich theme.

Looking for a murderer so they can put a regrettable event in Quinn’s life behind them and escape to small-town paradise, the two split up and dash about the city at night. In back-and-forth chapters each amateur sleuth thinks he or she is on the right trail, but of course there are complications, dead ends and unexpected dangers. We move quickly from Quinn’s perilous encounter with a stranger who he follows around the city, to Bricky’s capture by a pair she thinks did the murder.

I have a copy of the first printing of the “Tower Books Motion Picture” edition illustrated with photos of the 1946 film based—very loosely—on the book. Instead of chapter numbers or titles, there are faces of a clock, and each chapter heading has the hands moving closer to the 6 a.m. deadline Quinn and Bricky are racing toward. That’s when they hope to catch the interstate bus and escape New York City. The photos from the movie don’t match the novel. Quinn is represented as a sailor—in uniform—by Bill Williams.

Note that Deadline at Dawn is an example of Woolrich’s practice of recycling scenes, characters and events from short stories into novels. The first scene of Bricky’s dance hall dysphoria is similar to the beginning of a short story, Dancing Detective, that focuses on another cynical taxi dancer with moxie. After this first scene, however, the novel departs completely from the short story.

Like so many Woolrich stories, Deadline at Dawn looks at the many faces of fear. “And the man who says he’s never been afraid is a liar,” Woolrich says. Later he tells us, “Fear rots the faculties.” Unlike the movie version, the novel maintains the pessimism, the dread and the eerie notion of noir.

Deadline at Dawn
Cornell Woolrich (writing as William Irish)
The World Publishing Co. 1946
219 pages

Now available in a new edition from Centipede Press
300 pages   $14.52


Centipede Press
Deadline at Dawn (film)

Mystery – Suspense: New novel releases


The Killing: Uncommon Denominator
Karen Dionne
Titian Books  320 pages
The AMC TV series, The Killing, was taken from Forbrydelsen, a Danish detective series. The original show (available on DVD in Danish) was good but just a little hard to follow. You had to read the subtitles while listening to the swift dialog and trying to watch expressions at the same time. The U.S. series starred Mireille Enos and Joel Kinnaman as Sarah Linden and Stephen Holder. The superb cast, including a host of supporting actors, made the dark, gripping series something millions of viewers looked forward to each week. This was modern roman noir at its best. Two subsequent seasons of the show were not quite as sharp and compelling as the first. Titian Books acquired the rights to The Killing and hired thriller writer Karen Dionne to write books based on the original U.S. series. The first one is out now with the familiar characters of Linden and Holder.

The Killing stars

Enos and Kinnaman as Linden and Holder


The Doc / Tim Desmond / Black Opal Books    306 pages

A doctor and Civil War reenactor is asked to investigate the murder of a friend’s daughter and uncovers a murder squad run by the Department of Homeland Security.

The Inheritor / Tom Wither / Turner Publishing   348 pages

In this debut suspense novel, Islamic terrorists attack the U.S. energy infrastructure. Publishers Weekly called it a “high-stakes action thriller.”

The Ways of the Dead / Neely Tucker / Viking    288 pages

A reporter and former war correspondent covers the murder of a teenage girl, daughter of a high-profile Washington, D.C. judge. Of the plot twists, Kirkus Reviews said, “The shocks resound with acrid, illuminating insights into the District’s nettlesome intersections of race and class at the hinge of the millennium.”

Lights Out / Donald Bain / Severn House   203 pages

A hapless electrical engineer turns to crime to finance an affair with a beautiful Argentinean woman and winds up being sought by the Mafia, the cops and a PI hired by his wife.

No Stone Unturned / James W. Ziskin / Seventh Street Books   272 pages

Ellie Stone is a 24-year-old reporter for a small daily in upstate New York. Nearly ready to give up her job and return to New York City, she gets involved in the search for a killer.


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