Created by Dolores Hitchens
Pseudonym of Julia Clara Catherine Maria Dolores Robins
Other pseudonyms include D.B. Olsen, Dolan Birkeley, Noel Burke
“The carhop came and thanked him for the tip and took the tray away. As she walked into the light her legs shone like silk below the fluffy skirt, and Sader yawned, and the thought, My God, I really must be beat. I don’t even want a second look.”
— Sleep with Slander
Long Beach, California private eye and reformed (mostly) alcoholic JIM SADER appeared in two excellent novels written by Delores Hitchens, Sleep With Strangers (1956) and Sleep with Slander (1960), and they’re both dynamite–two of the very best P.I. novels of that decade, carefully plotted and just dripping with humanity.
When they first came out, they received favorable press from Anthony Boucher in The New York Times and Bill Pronzini in 1001 Midnights famously tagged Slander, which deals with child abuse, as “the best hard-boiled private eye novel written by a woman–and one of the best written by anybody.”
Not sure if I’d necessarily go that far, but at the time it was written, the only other real contender would have been Leigh Brackett’s No Good from a Corpse (also excellent). But who else was there at the time? Honey West?
Gimme a break.
Jim, who served in World War II in Army Intelligence, is very much cut out of the same cloth as Philip Marlowe or Lew Archer; a decent, intelligent middle-aged man with no family and few friends, a soft-spoken brooder with just a few hundred bucks to his name who throws himself into his work because, well, it’s all he has. No wonder he drinks.
In Sleep with Strangers, Hitchens describes him:
“The man on the step was in the act of lighting a cigarette. Rain lay in his hair, which was hatless, and which also, though obviously once reddish, now had faded to a tawny rust laced with gray. He had a lean, sharp, intelligent face. The hands that cupped the match wore a look of mobile strength.”
He and his junior partner Dan Scarborough run a private detective agency, which specializes is finding missing persons. In true down-these-mean-streets-a-man-must-go fashion, Jim serves as the battle-scarred moral center of this series; a decent, compassionate man who can’t help but end up getting personally involved in his cases, bearing the weight of a broken and corrupt world on his broad, if slightly-stooped, shoulders.
When nobody else seems to care, he does.
So put Jim Sader in the same small category as Howard Browne’s Paul Pine, Leigh Brackett’s Ed Clive and maybe Roy Huggins’ Stuart Bailey as one of the few Chandleresque eyes who could stand proudly alongside Marlowe himself, while the tortured family relationships and the slow-burn melancholy that lingers just under the surface of both Sleep books rivals that of those Ross Macdonald was just starting to write.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Hitchens wrote forty-five or so novels, mostly light-hearted mysteries, under several pen names, including a dozen featuring amateur sleuth Rachel Murdock and her cat named Samantha, and five with her second husband, Bert Hitchens, featuring a railroad detective. But for me, her very best work was definitely the hard-boiled Sader books. It’s a shame they’re almost forgotten now. Hopefully, the Library of America 2021 re-release of both books, with a passionate intro by Steph Cha, who knows a thing or two herself about being a hard-boiled P.I. writer from LA, will bring the books to the wider audience they deserve.
- “If you are a fan of private detective stories and you haven’t read this one yet, then you owe it to yourself to do so as soon as you can – you won’t regret it.”
— Tipping My Fedora on Sleep with Slander (September 2014)
- “Pronzini was right: Sleep with Slander should be a classic of the private investigator genre. It has the breadth and the depth, the memorable characters, the vivid style, and the brutal emotional impact of the best hard-boiled detective fiction.”
— Steph Cha
- Sleep With Strangers (1956) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- Sleep with Slander (1960) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- Why Dolores Hitchens’ Less-Than-Glamorous Detective Is the Quiet Hero We Need
Steph Cha salutes a fellow woman writer from LA who dished out the hard stuff, and forgives her for being White. (July 2021, CrimeReads)
THE DICK OF THE DAY
- July 16, 2021
THE BOTTOM LINE: The Long Beach PI from the classic (but disturbing) 1960 novel (recently reissued) which Bill Pronzini famously tagged as”the best hard-boiled private eye novel written by a woman–and one of the best written by anybody.”
Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.