A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Bill Pronzini

DOLORES HITCHENS – Sleep with Slander. Doubleday Crime Club, hardcover, 1960. Permabook M-4243, paperback, 1962; Berkley, paperback, 1969.

   Many people seem to feel that the best hard-boiled male private-eye novel written by a woman is Leigh Brackett’s No Good from a Corpse (reviewed here ). But that may because many people haven’t read Sleep with Slander. For the undersigned reviewer’s money, this is the best hard-boiled private-eye novel written by a woman — and one of the best written by anybody.

   Its protagonist, Long Beach-based Jim Sader, is a multidimensional character, much more realistic than the stereotypical tough detective; Sader uses his intelligence to accomplish his purposes. The plot, reminiscent in its complexity of both Chandler and Ross Macdonald, is better crafted, more compelling, and ultimately more satisfying than the Brackett.

   Sader is hired by a rich old man, Hale Gibbings, whose daughter gave birth to an illegitimate child five years earlier. The child, Ricky, was given away for adoption, not through a recognized agency but to a private couple, and Gibbings has heard nothing about the boy until recently, when an anonymous letter writer tells him the child is being mentally and physically abused.

   Sader undertakes the search for Ricky, following a trail that leads him to a conniving friend of Tina Champlain, the adoptive (and now presumed dead) mother; to a violent builder of boats and his drunken father; to murder, extortion, double-dealing, madness; and finally to the truth. The surprises Hitchens springs along the way are not at all easy to anticipate. A first-rate novel recommended not just to fans s of the hard-boiled school but for anyone who appreciates a quality mystery.

   Hitchens wrote one other novel featuring Sader: Sleep with Strangers (1957). This is also good reading, but marred by sentimentality and a shaky ending that reveals the wrong choice of murderer.

   Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007.   Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.