The Desperate Hours Summary & Study Guide

Joseph Hayes
This Study Guide consists of approximately 38 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of The Desperate Hours.
This section contains 1,280 words
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The Desperate Hours Summary & Study Guide Description

The Desperate Hours Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains For Further Reading and a Free Quiz on The Desperate Hours by Joseph Hayes.

Act 1

The Desperate Hours begins in the police station. Deputy Sheriff Jesse Bard arrives in the morning and learns from the night shift that there has been an escape from the federal prison in Terre Haute, seventy miles away. The night deputy thinks the story is of minor importance, but Bard recognizes the name of Glenn Griffin, who swore that he would take revenge on Bard. He immediately contacts the state police in order to monitor the search. Harry Carson, an FBI agent, comes to the station because he knows of Bard's history with Glenn.

The action shifts to the Hilliard house. Dan Hilliard leaves for work with his twenty-year-old daughter, Cindy. Ralphie, the Hilliards' young son, runs off to school. Soon after everyone is gone, Eleanor Hilliard answers the front door and is pushed inside by Glenn Griffin, wielding a gun. Glenn, his younger brother Hank, and a ruthless thug named Robish have chosen the Hilliard house to use as a hideout. They hide their stolen car in the garage and search the house, finding Dan's pistol. Glenn explains that they plan to leave by midnight, when a woman accomplice is going to deliver some money.

At the police station, there is news that Glenn's girlfriend, Helen Laski, has been located. The police want to tail her, hoping she will lead them to the escaped convicts, but she leaves her hotel without detection.

Cindy and Dan Hilliard arrive home at the end of the day and find the convicts in their house. When Ralphie comes home, Robish moves to hit him, and Dan stands up to Robish, knowing that the criminals will not risk firing a gun and attracting the neighbors.

At the sheriff's office, it is 7:03. News comes that Helen Laski is headed for Indianapolis. It looks like the police will be able to follow her to Glenn, but she later escapes when a police car in Columbus tries to pull her over for a routine traffic violation.

At the Hilliard home, Ralphie suggests that he could sneak out for help, but Dan refuses to take chances. Cindy receives a phone call from her boyfriend, Chuck; she tries to dissuade him from coming over, but he is adamant. The convicts let her go out, and also send Dan out to fill the car with gasoline and to bring back some liquor.

When Dan comes home, Robish begins drinking. Dan frets to Eleanor about how helpless he feels. Cindy comes home and struggles to keep Chuck from entering the house with her. Robish, drunk, tries to frisk Cindy, but Hank Griffin comes to her aid.

Robish wanders out into the yard, and Glenn follows him. Dan and Cindy manage to wrest the gun from Hank and force him out the door. For a moment, it seems that the criminals have been banished, but Eleanor notices that Ralphie has left the house. With Ralphie as a hostage, the three reenter the house and beat Dan.

Act 2

Eleanor nurses Dan's wounds, while he expresses his anger and fear. Helen Laski calls, and Glenn tells her to mail the money she is bringing. Glenn talks with Hank about why he must stay in Indianapolis and get his revenge on Bard: Bard hit him as he surrendered with his hands in the air.

In the sheriff's office, Bard tells Carson his version of Glenn's surrender: Glenn emptied his gun into a policeman and then surrendered with a grin on his face, so Bard broke his jaw. "If I'd only arrested him . . . or shot him before he gave up . . . he'd probably've forgotten it. But according to his warped code, I double-crossed him," Bard explains.

In the morning, the criminals send Dan and Cindy back to work. Mr. Patterson, the old man who collects the Hilliards' garbage, shows up at the door; while Eleanor is getting a check for him, he notices the mess of the house, and when he is by the garage, he looks in and writes something down. Robish takes Glenn's gun and runs outside, jumping onto Mr. Patterson's truck as it pulls away.

That night, the police discuss finding the murdered body of Mr. Patterson outside of town. A paper in his pocket has the license number of the criminals' stolen car, so they send officers out to investigate the houses Patterson collected checks from that day.

Ralphie's teacher, Miss Swift, comes to the house to ask why he was not in school. She sees the house a wreck, with liquor bottles around. Dan, bringing Robish home, acts belligerent and drunk in order to make her leave without asking any questions. Robish refuses to give Glenn back his gun; Hank will not give up the one they found in the Hilliard house, either.

The police, ready to blanket the neighborhood where Patterson worked that morning, receive an anonymous note from Dan, telling them that his family will be in danger if they try to capture the fugitives. They decide to wait, but are suspicious of Chuck Wright's Jaguar, which is circling around the neighborhood.

Hank, tired of waiting and feeling a sense of respect for the Hilliards, decides to leave on his own. After he is gone, Glenn becomes irrational. His discussion with Hank has stirred up resentment against his own abusive father, so he orders Dan to beat Ralphie for trying to slip a note to Miss Swift. Dan apologizes to his son, then hits him.

At the police station, Chuck Wright describes the Hilliard house. From his description and Eleanor's check, found in Mr. Patterson's pocket, the police deduce that this is the house where the convicts are hiding. News comes that Hank has been killed in a shootout, and Chuck offers to sneak into the house with a gun and shoot both the remaining criminals. The police tell him to go home.

Act 3

Dan receives a phone call from the store where he works, saying the money Helen Laski sent has arrived. Glenn sends him to pick up the money and sends Cindy along to take two thousand dollars of it to meet the assassin he has hired to kill Bard.

The police, in an attic across the street from the Hilliards' house debate whether to rush the house. They hear a report that the assassin has been arrested. Chuck sneaks into back door of the house.

Dan is brought into the attic before he can return home, and he convinces the police to hold off from storming the place. They offer him a gun; he empties it of bullets before putting it in his pocket.

When Dan reenters the house, Glenn frisks him and takes the gun. He goes upstairs to get Eleanor to take as a hostage when they leave, and Chuck sneaks up behind him and knocks him out. On his way downstairs, Chuck is shot by Robish and drops his gun. Robish goes to the door to shout to the police, but Dan runs up behind him and shoves him out, locking the door.

Glenn holds Ralphie with a gun at his head, as Dan enters with Chuck's gun. The police flood the house with a spotlight and call through a bullhorn for Glenn to surrender. Dan tells Ralphie to run away, and when he does, Glenn finds out that the gun he has is empty. Dan tells him to leave. Glenn runs out into the spotlight with his gun in the air, and Bard shoots him down. In the end, Bard expresses his disgust with the human race, but Carson reminds him that the world is full of brave men like Dan Hilliard.

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This section contains 1,280 words
(approx. 4 pages at 400 words per page)
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