An Appreciation of Jim Thompson
At my local mystery bookstore, I picked up a copy of The Killer Inside Me by Jim Thompson, and simply put, I’m a fan. With the release of the film, which I haven’t seen yet, I hope there is more interest in this chronicler of the insane, absurd, and corrupt.
Sadly, like so many great writers, Jim Thompson wasn’t recognized in America, but achieved a respectable following in France. He wrote several novels which were made into films, most notably The Getaway (starring Steve McQueen), The Kill-Off, After Dark, My Sweet, and The Grifters. If you watch the films rather than read the books, you’re cheating yourself. True: Thompson’s world view was dark, but the cadence of his prose in The Killer Inside Me provides us with a glimpse into the mind of a sociopathic killer like no other writer I’ve ever read. I’m a fan of Highsmith’s Ripley novels, but Thompson’s insane deputy sheriff, Lou Ford, isn’t the urbane and refined Ripley when it comes to madness; he’s a complex and detailed character out of a psychological study, except without the difficult words or the interpretation of dreams. As a reader, I hated Lou Ford more than any other character, yet at the end of the book I felt sorry for Ford. His madness was a disease. Beneath all the cynicism rampant in the book, Thompson was able to create a measure of sympathy for the dreaded Ford. Don’t forget, Thompson wrote the screenplay for the anti-war film Paths of Glory; which had its share of villains, but also the message that idealism and humanity can be a path to salvation.
Andrew F. Gulli
The Strand Magazine