Best Jim Thompson Novels

Jim Thompson is American Noir. Not the classic, Bogart as Sam Spade Maltese Falcon, pre-World War II, fast-talking detective noir, which is dark and darkly American in it's own right (and argued by some to be pulp, not noir at all), but the post-World War II 1950s boom of America that had a dark, noirish underbelly. Jim Thompson lit a candle in that darkness and illuminated some of the most dangerous, demented, and broken figures to be drawn in 20th Century American Literature. He published more than 30 hardboiled novels, and at his worst was a hack making a buck, but at his best, he turned the genre into an art form that no writer has matched before or since.

The Killer Inside Me, 1952

Probably Thompson's most famous book, this novel follows Lou Ford, a small town Texan sheriff who appears bumbling and amicable, but is, quite simply, a brilliant psychopath. He has a shady past and a "sickness" for killing that he constantly fights against; this novel is the chronicle of his losing battle and the lengths he'll go to cover it up. It is told from his perspective, and his detachment and reporter-esque clarity is chilling and addictive. Stacy Keach played Ford in the 1976 film adaptation.

Savage Night, 1953

Another brilliant demonstration of Thompson's skills at unreliable narration, Charles Bigger is sent to New York by mob boss "The Man" to kill a squealer. Operating under and the alias of the ungainly Carl Bigelow, he slow sets up his victim until everything begins to fall apart. One of the darkest, most nihilistic endings that Thompson ever wrote.

After Dark My Sweet, 1955

A short tome about an ex-boxer, mental hospital escapee, and drifter Kevin "Kid" Collins who is picked up by a woman and involved in an elaborate kidnapping scheme. When things go wrong, he is forced to make complex decisions about morality and sacrifice, and the result is a white-knuckle reading experience. The 1990 film adaptation, starring Jason Patric as Collins, is one of the truest book to film adaptations ever and is a grossly under-recognized neo-noir classic.

The Grifters, 1963

A classic of con artists, back-stabbings, love, and maternal loyalty that pits amoral, greedy, do-anything-to-get-ahead grifters against each other and watches the house burn to the ground. Lilly, who works for the mob, and her son Roy, a grifter, are an especially dynamic pair in their mutual hatred and undying loyalty to each other. The incredible 1990 movie, which starred John Cusack as Roy and Angelica Huston in one of her most dazzling performances as Lilly, looses none of the grittiness or ambiguities of the book.

Pop 1280, 1964

A similar plot to The Killer Inside Me, Pop 1280 tells the story of Nick Corey, a small-town (population: 1280) Texas sheriff who appears bumbling and inept at handling the petty fights and crimes of his town, his wife, and the upcoming election. As the novel unfolds at Thompson's masterful hands, it becomes clear this man is a complete psychopath and the story takes a turn toward a bleakness and darkness that is a most satisfying slap in the face.

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