Vintage Pulp Mar 8 2018
HORSE OF A DIFFERENT COLOR
Hallucinatory southwestern noir takes readers to a land of saints and sinners.


It's said that a good book teaches you how to read it. The author instructs while building the story. Dorothy B. Hughes' 1946 crime novel Ride the Pink Horse, which was the source material for the 1947 film noir starring Robert Montgomery, falls into that category. In the story a man wanders around the southwestern U.S. town of Santa Fe, New Mexico, searching for someone he calls the Sen, which is short for the Senator. We suspect the shortening of his title is designed to make it a heterograph with “sin,” because this Illinois senator-turned-crime boss rather sinfully hired out the murder of his wife then shorted the murderer part of his fee. That's why the main character, named Sailor, is adrift in this town. He's followed the Sen there from Chicago to get his money. He plans to find him, confront him, collect payment, then scurry away to Mexico.

But this comes out in trickles. Initially Sailor merely criss-crosses the town, unable to find a hotel room because it's fiesta weekend, with crowds everywhere and processions filling the streets. He sleeps under the canopy of a merry-go-round which features a pink horse. As he keeps going in circles around town more characters emerge—the cop who's trying to solve murder of the senator's wife, the carousel owner who appeals to Sailor's sense of honor, the girl who recalls an innocence he can barely remember, and the beautiful Iris Towers, the focus of his wishes for a better life.

Hughes loves symbolic names: there's the Sen, as we already mentioned; there's Iris Towers, dressed in ivory colors and pale of skin; and there's the girl Pila, whose name is the Spanish word for a laundry trough, a place of cleansing. The book is composed of encounters rather than events, hallucinatory meanderings punctuated by tense verbal standoffs. Each tête-à-tête clarifies matters a bit more for the reader. Did Sailor really kill the Sen's wife? Did he ever intend to? Was she ever to be the actual target? Were others involved?

When Sailor goes from seeing the town's Mexican and Native American inhabitants as something other than sub-human, maybe, we think, he isn't irredeemable. But even if he grows in some ways his hatred continues to drive him. He thinks the Sen is vermin. He wonders how such an abomination can even walk upon the Earth. When he follows the Sen into the cathedral this thought passes through his mind: He didn’t know why the dim perfumed cathedral didn’t belch the Sen out of its holy portals.

Hughes is a good writer, a unique stylist, and she gives Ride the Pink Horse the disorienting feeling of taking place in purgatory. It's a fever dream, an acid trip across a constantly shifting landscape, literary rather than pulp in approach, as much Faulkner as it is Chandler, with nothing quite solid or real apart from Sailor's hatred, which is so intense it seems as if it will consume him and leave nothing behind but a cinder. Sailor's racism is appalling, but he's not supposed to be a good man. This town filled with people that frighten and confuse him could be his salvation or his doom. He's the one who has to decide whether to step back from the precipice. Every wise character sees that he's headed for destruction. But the future isn't set. He has a chance for redemption—small, but real. Top marks for this one.

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
April 06
1930—Gandhi Leads Satyagraha March
In India, Mahatma Gandhi raises a lump of mud and salt and declares, "With this, I am shaking the foundations of the British Empire." His words, which were a protest against the British salt tax, mark the beginning of the Satyagraha March, which in turn triggers the wider Civil Disobedience Movement that ultimately culminates in Indian independence.
April 05
1955—Churchill Resigns
Winston Churchill resigns as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom amid indications of failing health. He had suffered a mild stroke during the summer of 1949, and another, more severe stroke, in June 1953. News of these events were kept from the public and from Parliament, who were told that Churchill was suffering from exhaustion. After his retirement he suffered yet another stroke in February 1956, but survived for nine more years before finally dying of a fourth stroke in 1965.
1976—Howard Hughes Dies
Eccentric American billionaire Howard Hughes, one of the world's richest men, and a former movie magnate and aviation pioneer, dies on an airplane en route from Mexico to Texas. After years of self neglect, he is almost unrecognisable and fingerprints are used to identify his body. In addition, he is determined to have died without a will, meaning twenty-two cousins inherit his fortune.
2005—Rainier III Dies
Rainier III, Prince of Monaco, whose 50-plus year reign made him one of the longest ruling monarchs of the 20th century, dies of heart and kidney conditions after more than a year of progressively worse health. Rainier is probably best known outside Europe for marrying American actress Grace Kelly, and he was buried in Monaco next to her, twenty-three years after she had perished in a car accident.
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