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The Blackbirder A classic World War II era noir with a page turning plot a cast of colorfully sinister characters and a protagonist who is thrust into the heart of political intrigue this captivating 1943 novel parallels the spy novels of Grahame Greene Eric Ambler and the films of Hitchcock and Lang But in signature Hughes fashion The Blackbirder has a genre bending twist its hardboiled protagonist is a womanBorn of American expatriate parents Julie Guilles was a pretty sheltered rich girl growing up in Paris a favorite of the “Ritz Bar” set But everything changed when the Nazis rolled into the City of Lights After three years of life underground Julie is hiding out in New York; but she knows trouble is coming when the corpse of an acuaintance appears on her doorstep With a host of possible dangers on her tail—the Gestapo the FBI and the New York cops—she embarks on a desperate journey to Santa Fe in search of her last best hope “The Blackbirder”is a legend among refugees a trafficker in human souls who flies under the radar to bring people to safety across the Mexican border—for a priceWith no resources at her disposal but a smuggled diamond necklace and her own razor sharp wits Julie must navigate a tangle of dangers—and take a stand in the worldwide struggle that has shattered the lives of millions In contrast to the typical representations of wartime women as “Mrs Minivers” guarding home and hearth Dorothy B Hughes gives her intrepid heroine a place at the heart of the actionDorothy B Hughes 1904–1993 is the author of numerous hardboiled mystery novels Three of her books became successful films The Fallen Sparrow 1943 Ride the Pink Horse 1947 and In a Lonely Place 1950 reprinted by the Feminist Press in 2003 In 1978 she was named a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of AmericaFemmes Fatales restores to print the best of women’s writing in the classic pulp genres of the mid 20th century From mystery to hard boiled noir to taboo lesbian romance these rediscovered ueens of pulp offer subversive perspectives on a turbulent era Enjoy the series Bedelia; The Blackbirder; Bunny Lake Is Missing; By Cecile; The G String Murders; The Girls in 3 B; In a Lonely Place; Laura; Mother Finds a Body; Now Voyager; Skyscraper; Stranger on Lesbos; Women's Barracks Crisp little World War II European refugee heroine fleeing through New York and New Mexico searching for cousin not knowing who to trust Hughes is consummate narrator with some lovely turns of phrase and super visual yes movie esue pacing and narrative form I kept visualizing it as an RKO B picture from 1946 directed by John Farrow starring Jane Greer as Julie Richard Widmark as Blaike and Claud Rains as Paul Well I can dream can't I? A uite brilliant update of The 39 Steps style of espionage thrillers to a WWII setting with a strong female lead and an overwhelming sense of fear paranoia and dreadRead whilst hiding from the English rain waiting to return to AustraliaI think this might be one of those forgotten classics Three uarters of this book verges on storytelling perfection only to be let down by a messy endingJulie is a refugee from Nazi occuppied Paris living in American illegally The opening chapter sets up a chance meeting with an old friend an unexpected death and an impromtu flight across America to escape persecution What follows is a thrilling page turning noirDorothy Hughes reads like the prototype for Megan Abbott with the ability to create an all enveloping sense of dread that Patricia Highsmith wouldn't be ashamed of writing and in doing so foreshadows the effects of Communist paranoia on the American psyche as Julie's mind becomes and fragmented with the overwhelming fear it createsThe good news is that Ms Hughes is currently being republished by both Penguin and The Feminist Press in their brilliant Femmes Fatales series so you can discover the talented mid 20th Century pulpnoir writer for yourself I’ve written before of my fondness for the novels of Dorothy B Hughes – most notably her noir classic In a Lonely Place published in 1947 and her ‘wrong place wrong time’ thriller The Expendable Man 1963 If anything The Blackbirder 1943 falls somewhere between the two with its noirish atmosphere and breakneck pace It’s also very good indeed a gripping thriller set in the midst of WW2 as a young woman tries to figure out who she can trust in a shadowy uncertain worldThe novel opens in New York where Julie Grille aka Juliet Marlebone is currently residing following her flight from occupied Paris and her Nazi sympathiser uncle some three years earlier In essence Julie is an illegal immigrant; her entry into the country by way of Cuba making her status precarious to say the least Conseuently she has been trying to keep a low profile possibly until the war is over or the situation settles downOne night after a concert Julie spots an old acuaintance a man names Maxl whom she knew a little in Paris Unfortunately for Julie her attempts to hide from Maxl prove fruitless and she is drawn into a conversation with him in the lobby of Carnegie Hall Right from the start there is a strong sense of tension to the narrative as Maxl coerces Julie into joining him for a drink Can Julie trust him? It’s hard for her to tellTo read the rest of my review please visit It's the middle of WWII Julie Guille aka Juliet Marlebone has been on the run for three years since fleeing occupied Paris and her vile pro Nazi uncle; she's managed to reach New York by way of Portugal and Cuba After a concert at Carnegie Hall she runs into an old if slight acuaintance from Paris Maxi; they have a meal and he drops her off home The next she knows he's been murdered shot dead in the street outside her apartment block She realizes she could be a suspect and besides as an illegal immigrant she can't afford to be uestioned by the cops So she changes her appearance and heads by train to Santa Fe where she believes she can contact the Blackbirder a pilot who flies people illegally to and fro across the Mexican border There too she might be able to find Fran the step cousin whom she loves and who likewise fled FranceAlmost at once she realizes she's being followed by a limping stranger who introduces himself to her as Blaike Who can he be? Is he a Gestapo agent using her as a means to track down other Free French supporters? Could he be from the FBI hoping to lay hands on the Blackbirder? Is he a cop chasing her as a suspect in the killing of Maxi? Sometimes inclined to trust him sometimes not Julie knows she must play the safe card and try to lose him When she finds that he's acting in partnership with Schein whom she encountered on the evening of Maxi's death and whom she's certain is a Nazi and likely Maxi's killer she knows she was right This is a hugely enjoyable thriller although the ending's a bit too neat it's unusual for me to find myself wishing a book could have been a dozen pages longer Hughes has a kind of breathless style and it perfectly matches the subject matter hereShe also has an unusual way with words which can be uite disconcerting until you get used to it She has the occasional habit of using a well known turn of phrase yet substituting one of its words with a less common one as for example in her bedroom was far and away at the opposite pole of the house And she's not at all averse to taking risks with her imagery which gives her narrative a lot of life but as with all risk taking can sometimes be disastrous The very opening page of The Blackbirder has a couple of these teeth grating moments and I'm sure will have deterred some readers from venturing furtherUnder black caterpillar eyebrows his cold little black eyes were crawling on her face She smiled now across the red checkered tablecloth across the stone mugs of beer at the boy opposite her He had black eyes too but not like the waiter's horny onesAll through this novel which was first published in 1943 there's a sense that Hughes anticipated the war wasn't going to last very much longer Such a tragedy that she was wrongWith a marvelously likeable resourceful and admirable central character and a constant tumble of events that makes sure Julie can never retain control of her situation for long this is a novel that reads at breakneck speed By the end of it I was as breathless as Hughes's prose

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