In my unceasing efforts to get people to understand Dorothy Hughes as one of the godmothers of noir, I gave a presentation at the NEPCA Conference this past weekend on her early novel The Cross-Eyed Bear Murders. I actually have this lovely Dell Mystery edition with the map back (probably by Ruth Belew). Everything about this edition pitches it as a whodunit mystery, including the title page designation ‘An Inspector Tobin Detective Story.’
Inspector Tobin is barely in the book and he doesn’t solve the mystery. It’s a very noir tale (with a touch of gothic) about a woman on the run, in disguise and in danger. But Lizanne Steffason dares to look on ‘danger’s bright face’ and walk into the lion’s den — trying to figure out who killed her husband with very few clues.
She hated her husband, by the way.
People doggedly pursuing something when all logic tells them to give up; nobody is who they say they are; death lurks around every corner and the city drips with existential dread — yeah, that’s noir. From the opening lines it’s got atmosphere to spare:
‘No one paid any attention to you in the subway. Ermine or rags, it didn’t make any difference.’
I’ll probably tidy it up and send it off to get published, but if you want to read it in the meantime, let me know. It’s still a little rough. Read more Hughes!
Dorothy B. Hughes may have reached the epitome of noir with her classic trio In a Lonely Place, Ride the Pink Horse and The Expendable Man, but The Cross-Eyed Bear Murders (1940) demonstrates that an existential noir ambience can be found even in this early work published in the midst of the war.
I even got to see this book in the flesh so to speak: features me. Ask your library to get it (it’s hella expensive).