A blog by the staff of the Thomas Ford Memorial Library
The twists and spoilers in Dorothy B. Hughes’ 1963 novel The Expendable Man are way too important to let me ramble on much about the plot. Let’s just say it follows a young doctor on his way to a family wedding in Arizona. He picks up a young girl trying to hitchhike her way to Phoenix and, out of fear for her safety, buys her a train ticket and sees her to the station. It’s an act of kindness that ends up involving him in two crimes, a sensational trial, and a bit of amateur sleuthing to boot.
What’s great about the novel is that it manages to cover a lot of bases: traditional whodunit, moody noir, legal thriller, and wrong-man redemption quest. Meanwhile, it has a lot to say about early sixties America. Hughes certainly doesn’t shy away from controversy. It’s fast paced. It has an arid, atmospheric Southwestern setting that oozes angst and paranoia. The characters are interesting, if occasionally a bit of-a-type. And, most importantly, it’s biggest plot points are true surprises that rather uncomfortably implicate the reader. Recommended for mystery/thriller readers looking for something with a sixties Americana vibe.
Review by Matthew