Previous reviews are at Mack Pitches Up

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Review: Ride the Pink Horse, Dorothy B. Hughes

Canongate Books Ltd, 2002, ISBN 1-84195-277-X, 248 pages. Ride the Pink Horse was originally published in 1946.

A Chicago hood named Sailor arrives in a nameless New Mexico town looking for his former boss, Senator Douglass. Sailor had been hired by Douglass to kill his wife but Sailor knows it was the Senator who actually did the deed. Sailor wants to be paid what is due him for his silence. Also in town is McIntyre, a homicide detective from Chicago who is watching the Senator. McIntyre has known Sailor since he was a patrolman and has always hoped that Sailor could overcome his upbringing.

Unfortunately for Sailor, it is Fiesta time and there are no rooms at any price. Much of the book is Sailor interacting with townspeople and Fiesta attendees as he tries to find a place to stay and prepare himself to confront the Senator.

He forms an odd relationship with the owner of a hand-cranked merry-go-round. The man is an Indian named Don Jose Patricio Santiago Morales y Cortez but Sailor calls hum Pancho. Pancho is "fat and shapeless and dirty, but his brown face was curiously peaceful." When Sailor befriends a fourteen year old Indian girl, Pila, paying for her to ride the merry-go-round on the pink horse, Pancho decides that Sailor is his friend; Sailor didn't try to use ride to have sex with the girl. In his own harsh and bigoted way, Sailor has empathy for the girl and her low status with everyone else.

This isn't a book with action and gun-play. What we see is someone who finds himself in an alien culture and his big city biases and prejudices challenged. Sailor could be more than a hood but seems unable to break away from a path to destruction. We see a lot of inner conflict working at Sailor and at a time of desperation the one person he turns to for help is Pancho, someone not of his world.

For me, the pleasure in reading this book was not the plot but the writing. The descriptions of the town, Fiesta, the people, the out-of-his-element flounderings of Sailor are wonderful to read. Hughes was educated and worked in New Mexico and she writes movingly about the relationship of the Indians to the land and how they will endure.

This is another book I learned of from Megan Abbott's anthology, A Hell of a Woman: An Anthology of Female Noir From Busted Flush Press.