Noir Classic: Ride the Pink Horse

Ride the Pink Horse
Dorothy B. Hughes

I do not understand that Mysterious Press cover. Is it some weird attempt to sell the book as ‘chick lit’? Because too many ‘modern’ men are going to be terrified of a book with ‘pink’ in the title already. This is a gritty and atmospheric novel that showcases Hughes skill at rendering lost men struggling to find their way without the traditional cultural handholds. As usual, she’s brilliant as she allows the downward spiral to snake all the way down. But you knew that, right? Chandler told you.

hughes pinkSailor is a hood from Chicago, thrust into the wild frontier of New Mexico, looking for his boss, the Senator, who betrayed him while setting up the murder of the Sen’s wife. He discovers that he’s not the only one following the boss: Mac, a cop from the Windy City, has made his way to this desert town, too. But is he after Sen — or Sailor?

The desert and its people confuse Sailor, but his habits of thought give way to new discoveries — and new alliances — without understanding why. The fiesta with its ritual observances casts an almost uncanny shadow over the town for this Catholic boy. His confusion about what’s right and wrong — and who is really a friend — demonstrate his confusion and anger. He has chances to avoid his noirish fate; he almost takes some of them.

Like all Hughes novels, there’s a boatload of awesome quotes. Here’s a few:

In destroying evil, even puppet evil, these merrymakers were turned evil…Fire-shadowed, their eyes glittered with the appetite to destroy.

He didn’t know why giving her a ride had been important…whether it was placating an old and nameless terror. Pila wasn’t stone now; she was a little girl, her stiff dark hair blowing behind her like the mane of the pink wooden horse.

And standing there the unease came upon him again. The unease of an alien land, of darkness and silence, of strange tongues and a stranger people, of unfamiliar smells, even the cool-of-night smell unfamiliar…The panic of loneness; of himself the stranger although he was himself unchanged, the creeping loss of identity.

‘Only the Indians are proud peoples…Because they do not care for nothing. Only this their country. They do not care about the Gringos or even the poor Mexicanos. These people do not belong to their country. They do not care because they know these peoples will go away. Sometime.’

And the rage was eating him again.

The Sen said something to Iris Towers and she slanted her eyes up at him and the smile on her mouth was the way you wanted a woman to smile at you. The way you didn’t want a woman to smile at a murderer.

The whole town was a trap. He’d been trapped from the moment he stepped off the bus at the dirty station. Trapped by the unknown, by a foreign town and foreign tongues and the ways of alien men. Trapped by the evil these people had burned and the ash that had entered their flesh.

Another dance. A warrior dance, the dancers lunging at each other, without warning letting out startling whoops. It made him jumpy. Then it was over, the dancers jingling away on soft feet, the drum beating away into silence. The crowd broke, speaking silly things to exorcise the spell.

And I could have gone on and on. Hughes is a great stylist who captures an unsettling sense of tension and dread incredibly well. Not enough people read her. They’re missing out.

Catch up with all of Friday’s Forgotten Books over at Patti Abbott‘s blog this week at BV Lawson’s blog.

5 thoughts on “Noir Classic: Ride the Pink Horse

  1. I tried this quite a few years ago and didn’t get very far with it. Since then I’ve read and adored her In a Lonely Place, and have put it on my list to retry Ride the Pink Horse and read the other Hughes novel bound up in the same bookclub threefer.

    I agree with you about that new cover. Completely nuts.

    1. It’s not the typical crime story, so I can see how it might put people off. But her sense of place and atmosphere is superb.

      1. Yes, that’s what I meant to add, but forgot. I think I went into it expecting the wrong thing. I went into In a Lonely Place expecting the wrong thing, too (i.e., the movie), but for some reason that time the prior misapprehension made the book seem somehow even more rewarding.

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