Now And On Earth
Heed the Thunder (1946)
Nothing More Than Murder (1949)
The Killer Inside Me (1952)
cropper’s cabin 1952
“Cropper’ Cabin” is unlike anything else Thompson published. It is bereft of psychopathic deputies, lacking dirty, underhanded tricks, and doesn’t detail a descent into the depths of hell. The protagonist Tommy Carver is not a conman or other shady dealer. This is a piece of country pulp like what Harry Whittington put out. Tommy grew up in a shareholder’s shack in the Oklahoma countryside with his meanspirited stepfather and Tommy is busy romancing a rich man’s daughter and causing all kinds of havoc at school. Thompson paints this bitter town with a broad brush, encompassing poverty, incest, race relations, legal affairs, and more. But there are few who can write country pulp this good or this believable. In many ways, it is a coming of age story as Tommy has to grow up and stand up to his father, to his girlfriend’s father, and to the law, which it appears Tommy has run afoul of.
This is a fairly short book and very easy to read.
the alcoholics (1953)
SAVAGE Night (1953)
Jim Thompson has a well-deserved reputation as one of the greatest of all the pulp writers. He wrote thirty novels in the late 1940’s and the 1950’s, including The Killer Inside Me, Savage Night, Hell of A Woman, The Getaway, and The Grifters. The Getaway was a huge box office hit in 1972 starring Steve McQueen and Ali McGraw. Its 1994 remake was also a hit, starring Baldwin and Basinger. The Grifters also became a big hit in the movies in 1990, produced by Scorsese and starring Cusack, Huston, and Bening. Donald Westlake wrote the screenplay. But watching a movie based on one of Thompson’s books is not the same as reading the original material. Although hundreds of writers have tried to ape his style, there was only one Jim Thompson. His tales are sordid. They are filled with psychopaths and grifters. His heroes are anti-heroes. They are not just criminals, but often mean, violent, sadistic men. Also, his books are filled with a sardonic sense of humor that often leaves the reader laughing out loud.
Savage Night is a tale about a pint-sized contract killer who has been brought out of Arizona retirement to do one last job for “the Man” and Thompson never gives “the Man” a name. He is just a shadowy figure, representing mobster chieftains. It begins with “Little Biggers” arriving in New York after “three days of babes and booze while [he] waited to see the Man.” He then takes the railroad out to some poh-dunk dead- end town called Peardale where Jake Hinson is living – Jake Winroy who is about to testify at a trial that will bring down the gambling interests in the city. He explains that the farther he got into Peardale, the less he liked it. “The whole place had a kind of decayed, dying-on- the-vine appearance.” It was ninety-five miles from the city and nothing there but a small teacher’s college. “There was something sad about it, something that reminded [him] of bald-headed men who comb their side hair across the top.”
Because he looked young for his age, Biggers is to enroll at the college and take a room in the Winroy house and wait for his instructions to off Winroy. He uses the name Carl Bigelow since it is close enough to his real name- Charles Bigger- that he can remember it. Bigger is an odd hero for a book- he is short. He wears elevator shoes. He has false teeth and is barely healthy enough to get around without losing his lunch.
When he gets to the Winroy house, he notes the brown grass and the paint-peeled fence, but then his eyes came up and looked across the street and saw Fay, Jake’s wife, who had a reputation as quite a “stepper.” “She had one of those husky well-bred voices.” “One look at that frame of hers, and you knew the kind of breeding she’d had: straight out of Beautyrest by box-springs. One look at her eyes, and you knew she could call you more dirty words than you’d find in a mile of privies.” But Biggers knows what she is. And, he ain’t falling for her. As he pulls her by the hair up out of the tub, “She stood there on the bathmat, fighting with everything she had to fight with – – offering it all to me. And she saw it wasn’t enough. She knew it before I knew it myself.” And, after that scene, he’d broken the ice but good and she knew who he was now if she hadn’t had a damned good idea before and she knew why he was in Peardale and it was okay with her. “She was stacked. She was pretty. She was just about everything you could want in a woman – as long as you were on top or you looked like you might be on top.”
In the hands of a lesser author, this book would be slow as Biggers bides his time until he does the hit, but Thompson fills that time up with an odd assortment of characters, including a one-legged girl who Biggers takes advantage of, the calculating femme fatale of Fay, the old peculiar bakery manager who must be in on the deal to act so queer (Mr. Kendall), and the sheriff who won’t let up on Biggers. The time is filled with exploiting cripples, plotting to kill his landlord, putting out matches on a woman’s chest, sticking knives in his associates’ necks, and other beastly acts. All the while, Biggers puts on an act as if he were the prince of innocence himself.
One of the oddest episodes is his dalliance with Ruthie, she of the one- legged fame. When she arrived, one good look is all he got, but what he saw interested him. “Maybe it wouldn’t interest you, but it did me.” She had on “an old muckledung-colored coat – the way it was screaming Sears-Roebuck they should have paid her to wear it.” He observes that “the swinging around on that crutch hadn’t done her rear end any harm. If you saw it by itself, you might have thought it belonged to a Shetland pony.”
The ending is Thompson-esque in its strangeness and uniqueness as blood and mental illness take over. This is prototypical nihilism and is found throughout the book such as a scene where Biggers is angry and elbows through a crowd getting on a subway car, noting he had elbowed a woman holding a baby good and wondering if the baby would be better off under the wheels of the train than going through the crap of life.
This is vintage Thompson and it is noir like nothing else you have ever read. Enjoy.
BAD BOY (1953)\
THE CRIMINAL (1953)
“The Criminal” is a terrific piece of literature that is an entire departure from the norm of Jim Thompson”s work. The story is not centered around the ravings of some twisted, one-legged psychopath. Rather, it is told from more than half a dozen points of view, a writing technique that is not uncommon, but rarely done as well as here. What’s really great about this book is how deftly Thompson speaks with people’s voices. You can really believe you are hearing these people narrate as they talk about the mundane and go off on meaningless tangents. Plotwise, it is a story about a small town, about seemingly friendly neighbors, about juvenile delinquency, about young teenagers, about a seductive young teenager, about jumping to conclusions, about the corruption of the news business, and the empty promises of Justice.
the nothing man (1953)
The Golden Gizmo (1954)
A Swell looking babe (1954)
Jim Thompson was not an ordinary writer. Although widely acknowledged as one of the true masters of the classic noir genre, there are few writers, even today, who have successfully channeled Thompson’s style of writing, but many do try. “A Swell-Looking Babe” was his thirteenth full-length novel and was originally published in 1954. It has all the classic elements of a fifties pulp novel, including a gorgeous femme fatale — Marcia Hillis, a gangster with his own army of thugs – Tug Trowbridge, a protagonist who at first appears to be nothing more than an ordinary guy caught up in things he never anticipated – Bill “Dusty” Rhoads. It has murder, gunfire, armed robbery, attempted rape, incest, and blackmail. However, don’t be conned by thinking this is anything like an ordinary pulp novel.
It is told through Dusty’s point of view, although not necessarily through Dusty’s voice, and Dusty may not be the most honest narrator available. Is Dusty just a blundering bellboy supporting his prematurely senile father? Was Dusty conned by his young mother and her lingerie into climbing into bed with her or was he a filthy monster as she claimed? How did his father lose his job with the school and how did his father become the emasculated fool that he became? Does Dusty merely fall prey to the hood Tug’s machinations or has Dusty anticipated it all himself? Is Dusty merely conned by the tricky showgirl or does he allow himself to be conned because it suits his needs?
Is this really a pulp novel or is it some strange facsimile of such a novel, placing the reader in this strange world of Dusty’s creation, a world revolving around a hotel with a few odd characters in it and Dusty’s home where his father is doddering around and no one seems wise to how slick Dusty really is? Or is Dusty the simpleton he appears to be, reasoning things out slowly and cautiously?
Even the robbery in this book is not at its heart, not so much as the shocking oedipal complex is the center of it all. Thompson had a talent for creating the oddest, most eccentric characters. The people who inhabit his books are not just outside the fringes of society, but they do things that make you gasp out loud. His novels and this one is no exception feel as odd and strange as David Lynch’s “Blue Velvet” movie. They just leave you feeling a bit uncomfortable
A HELL OF A WOMAN
Top notch pulp masterpiece. Jim Thompson has a well-deserved reputation as one of the greatest of all the pulp writers. He wrote thirty novels in the late 1940’s and the 1950’s, many of which later became box office hits. But watching a movie based on one of Thompson’s books is not the same as reading the original material. Although hundreds of writers have tried to ape his style, there was only one Jim Thompson. His tales are sordid. They are filled with psychopaths and grifters. His heroes are anti-heroes. They are not just criminals, but often mean, violent, sadistic men. Also, his books are filled with a sardonic sense of humor that often leaves the reader laughing out loud.
A Hell of A Woman is classic Jim Thompson. It is filled with the kind of characters and sardonic humor that Thompson is famous for. It is told in the first person and the reader is left to figure how much of what “Dolly” Dillon says is accurate and how much is his making excuses for his actions.
As with all of Thompson’s books, it is not the plot which is ultimately fascinating, but his bizarre, despair-filled world beginning in the first chapter with the shocking incident of the old lady offering up her sweet niece in exchange for whatever trinkets a traveling salesman is willing to part with.
There are simply no redeeming characters in this book. Dillon is wife- beating, old lady-murdering, scum. Mona eagerly wants Dillon to kill her aunt so they can run off with the money. Joyce is sloppy and trampy and money-hungry. It’s a bleak, miserable world that Dillon lives in and everyone is a welcher, a scoundrel, a cheat.
But, what Thompson does is take this miserable existence and makes it interesting. He tells it with Dillon’s voice with Dillon bitching about the slow unattractive waitresses and, when asked why he doesn’t try some other restaurant, Dillon says its all the same everywhere, nothing is any better anywhere. No one else writes like this.
Thompson didn’t just focus on the anti-heroes, but he got inside their heads and the reader felt their misery and Thompson did this way before anyone else got wise to doing it. Indeed, it is the physicality of emotions that Thompson conveys so well.
It is, indeed, a pulp noir masterpiece, but it clearly will not appeal to everyone given its focus on twisted people.
AFTER DARK, MY SWEET
Welcome to Jim Thompson’s twisted world. Thompson was one of the greatest of the 1950’s pulp writers. But, Thompson wrote differently than almost anyone else at that time. His books are often narrated by grifters, conmen, and psychopaths. Often, as in “Killer Inside Me,” the world doesn’t realize that their local deputy is the nastiest psychopath they ever dreamed of.
In his 1955 novel, “After Dark, My Sweet,” the narrator is Kid Collins, a one-time boxing phenom, who left the ring after he punched one opponent so hard that the guy never got up again. Collins drifted from job to job, town to town, prison to prison, psych ward to psych ward, and, as this novel begins, he has escaped from his latest mental hospital. He knows he is nuts and can’t stand everyone making fun of him (or is he just paranoid). On the way, he meets an older lush who he can’t keep his eyes off of (Faye) and a troubled ex-cop (Uncle Bud) who just happen to be planning a kidnapping and need a sucker to play the fall guy.
The plot isn’t filled with too many twists and turns, but what is wonderful here is Thompson’s writing, which takes you inside the thinking of a guy who hasn’t got all his marbles to begin with. There are, of course, those who are convinced the whole thing is a con on Kid Collins’ part, but even cuckoos have moments where they think they are sane.
The world in Thompson’s novel is dark and dreary. No one is picking up a hitchhiker. The bartender “slops” down a beer in front of Collins. Collins, even sitting in the bar having a drink, feels that old feeling creeping up on him. His eyes begin to burn. He can’t just walk away, but he can’t get them to stop needling him.
As to Fay, Collins says his first impression was that she was just a female barfly who hit the booze too hard. But then he decided she was pretty, she’d just led a hard life for too long. And sometimes she could act as nice as she looked, but that’s except when her claws came out and she started needling him and pushing him.
The whole story seems somewhat twisted, including the nutty kidnapping plot and dealing with the sick kidnapped kid, but its all told from Collins’ point of view and his world is warped and crazy and he doesn’t trust anyone at all, not even Fay, not even Uncle Bud, not even the friendly doctor who wants to take him in.
Maybe today there are any number of books told from a warped point of view, but few did it back in the mid-1950’s and one can only imagine what it was like back then coming across one of Thompson’s books and not knowing what you were getting into. The cover blurb about “twisted lives and tormented loves” doesn’t really give an inkling about where this thin volume takes the reader. Enjoy.
Another dark, disturbing tale from the Duke of American noir fiction. Thompson can spin a tale like few others ever. Just be prepared for characters who are dark, nasty, disturbed, and just plain mean. Centering his story around a housebound hypochondriac recluse who delights in spreading malicious gossip, Thompson introduces a world of small resort town characters who literally hate her. Luanne Devore “had a positively fiendish talent for tossing the knife, for plunging it into exactly the right spot to send the crap flying.”
There’s the town lawyer stuck listening to the old lady. There’s the younger husband who was once rumored to be her son and for whom every job in town is drying up. There’s the would-be cabaret singer- striptease who the husband fantasizes over. There’s the bandleader who takes the singer on as a part of his band, the band members, he notes, didn’t have enough talent to wipe a real musician’s tail. There’s the juvenile delinquent son of the town doctor who rants on about killing people and getting young girls hooked on dope.
Cynism just drips off every page as Thompson explores these intriguing characters. Each chapter is a new viewpoint and it is a psychological portrait of all kinds of folks. This may be unlike anything else Thompson wrote in the backwards way the plot develops, but he hasn’t lost his touch or his understanding of the human condition. It is hard to understand why this book isn’t better known and more widely appreciated. It really is a brilliant piece of literature and perhaps one of the most literary of his works.
There’s a murder here, but it comes later in the story after the reader gets a chance to feel how so many people had a motive to commit the murder. There were so many that hated, but only one could have done it.
WILD Town (1957)
The Grifters (1963)
Pop. 1280 (1964)
Pop. 1280 is the title of the book and it refers to the population of Potts County, where Nick Corey is “High Sheriff.” It is the 57th largest county out of 57 counties in Texas.
This book is a literary masterpiece that serves as a sardonic attack on small Southern towns in the early twentieth century. Nick Corey is on the surface a good ole boy, a not-so-bright, uneducated Southern hick. He is much more than that when you poke under the surface. His lazy, shiftless ways and his appearance as a good-for-nothing buffoon are just an act, an act that lets him get away with all kinds of graft and other behavior.
Indeed, one of the genuinely genius things about this book is that, by using Corey as the narrator, Thompson is able to poke fun at what were the Southern conventions at the time, including race relations. He explains at one point that he couldn’t lean on the well-to-do citizens of the town no matter what they did, but he could lean on the Blacks and the White trash and no one would think anything of it. Thompson, using Corey as the narrator, pokes fun at the holier-than- thou front that Southerners put on, masking all their nasty deeds under the used-car-salesman-patter of the Southern preacher who just goes on and on, shoveling his horse manure till the listener just about drowned in it.
This book has it all, including incest, murder, adultery, graft, more murder, more adultery, and more graft. All of that hiding behind the sweetness and politeness of Southern manners and all of it accepted because no one in that small town wanted to rock the boat or wanted a sheriff who would rock the boat.
Corey begins his narration by explaining that he “should have been sitting pretty, just as pretty as a man could sit,” being sheriff of the county, drawing two thousand dollars plus what he “could pick up on the side.” He says he could go on being the sheriff “as long as I minded my own business and didn’t arrest no one unless I just couldn’t get out of it and they didn’t amount to nothin.”
He’s married to Myra, who, according to Corey, tricked him into her room at the rooming house, and then started screaming rape, leaving him no choice but to marry her and take in her imbecile brother Lenny (think of Lenny from Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men), who goes around at night peeping into people’s windows. He explains that Myra was quite a bit older than he was and “she looked every bit as mean as she was. And believe me, she was one danged mean woman.” He had really wanted to marry Amy Mason, but that didn’t happen because of Myra’s trickery. Of course, he had also “gotten real friendly with a married woman, name of Rose Hauck,” who pretended to be Myra’s best friend. Rose didn’t mean a thing to Corey, but she “was awful pretty and generous.”
Corey acts like he is the town goof and lets people get the better of him, but all through the tale it is Corey who is underhandedly manipulating people with his aw, shucks, attitude and silliness and few catch on to how dirty and underhanded he really is. Corey goes on to make a buddy of his who makes fun of him to be take the blame for a couple of murders and goes on to politic for the election by talking up how he didn’t believe the rumors about Sam Gaddis. Yup, soon enough there are rumors spreading about Gaddis baby-raping and feeding his dead wife to his hogs and so forth.
Nick Corey is a brilliant character and some would say he is a bit like Lou Ford in The Killer Inside Me. But, this book is a different one than the Lou Ford book and Corey is quite interesting in his own right.
All in all, an amazing book and you certainly have never read anything like it.
Texas by the Tail (1965)
South of Heaven (1967)
Fireworks: The Lost Writings of Jim Thompson (1988)
THE rip off (1989)