She gets her digs in at the dream factories selling sex and pinups, but the chill wind that blows through her books every so often is less attack than anomie. The enigmatic women — therapists or counselors — who are frequent characters in her novels are more interested in power than consolation. The girls some of her most marriageable heroes dream about are childlike or worse. (One, in Dream of Fair Woman, is mysteriously, but attractively, comatose.) For women, the only real romance to be found is in improbable adventures, like those Armstrong concocts for her plucky heroines. As for marriage, the staple promise of women’s novels, "what you get, if you’re bourgeois and respectable," as one of her heroines laments, "is the jolly old suburban pal with the station wagon and the Cub Scouts."
Charlotte Armstrong on the side of Philip Marlowe? It’s almost enough to make one believe that noir, now close to retirement age, may still be able to do what geography and politicians have not: forge a single — though double-edged — vision out of this city’s disparate parts. But I’ll always be especially indebted to my three dark ladies. Through their Kodacolor fictions, discovered on friends’ shelves and in second-hand stores, mostly, because their works were erratically in print, I began to mesh my own history, real and imagined, with that of the place I was adopting. Call it reading as homemaking.