For blacker than black, read super-noir

The Killer Inside Me by Jim Thompson

Scene: A diner in Central City, Texas; it’s the early 1950s.  A man walks up to the counter to pay his bill…

The proprietor shoved back my money and laid a couple of cigars on top of it. He thanked me again for taking his son in hand.
‘He’s a different boy now, Lou,’ he said, kind of running his words together like foreigners do. ‘Stays in nights; gets along fine in school. And always he talks about you – what a good man is Deputy Lou Ford.’
‘I didn’t do anything,’ I said. ‘Just talk to him. Showed him a little interest. Anyone else could have done as much.’
‘Only you,’ he said. ‘Because you are good, you make others so.’

This is our first glimpse of Deputy Lou Ford, a respected and stalwart member of the community.  A police officer so at ease with himself and his job, that he doesn’t even carry a gun.  He has a beautiful girlfriend Amy who wants to marry him, he has a house. surely he has everything he wants?

But Lou’s outward persona is just a façade. Inside he harbours deep, dark secrets of the murderous kind. Lou is the only one left in his family.  Only he now knows the truth of what happened with his adoptive brother Mike, it killed his Dad.

Then one day, Lou gets the opportunity to avenge his brother, to get back at the man who was responsible for getting Mike pushed off a girder. The sickness that he has successfully hidden all these years bubbles up to the surface, but Lou believes that he can get away with it.  However best laid plans …

It doesn’t take many pages for us to get the measure of Lou, he’s told us his secret by page 15, and from then on in, we know how the story is going to end – but not how.  The suspense is killing!

Reading Lou’s story, I immediately wondered whether he was the prototype for Jeff Lindsay’s ‘Dexter’ (a forensic blood spatter expert who only murders criminals as an avenging force), but whereas Dexter’s sickness is channelled, Lou’s takes over.  There’s certainly no humour in Thompson’s novel either, it’s blacker than black noir through and through.

The entire novel is told by Lou. He tells us his mind, what he’s really thinking –  when outwardly, he’s the patient lawman.  Even when the net is starting to close in on him, he’s sure they can’t pin anything on him, ever deluding himself. Lou tells us, with obvious relish in the detail, about each blow he strikes in his killing spree.

Thompson’s protagonist is a nasty piece of work, the most amoral man I’ve met in a book since the last noir novel I read which was published just a few years before this one – (Dirty Snow by Georges Simenon). But Thompson’s killer is, in a way, worse than Simenon’s because he is an officer of the law!

Whereas James M Cain can lay claim to having created the biggest femme fatale in crime fiction – that is Phyllis Nirdinger in Double Indemnity, published a few years earlier, I think Jim Thompson has come very close to the ultimate male equivalent with Deputy Lou Ford, and has instilled in me a need to read more of his books, which means I have to award it (10/10).

P.S. I’ve now ordered the DVD of the 2010 film – Will report back.

* * * * *
I bought my copy. To explore further on Amazon UK, click below:
The Killer Inside Me by Jim Thompson (originally published in 1952, paperback).
The Killer Inside Me [DVD]– directed by Michael Winterbottom, starring Casey Affleck, Jessica Alba and Kate Hudson.
Further noir reading & viewing:
Double Indemnityby James M Cain
Dirty Snow (New York Review Books Classics)by Georges Simenon
Darkly Dreaming Dexterby Jeff Lindsay
Dexter : Complete Season 1 [DVD]


11 thoughts on “For blacker than black, read super-noir

  1. Jim Thompson also wrote The Grifters and The Getaway – which were both fab films too. I’d love to read those now.

  2. I started this and then stopped don’t know why. I’ve read Savage Night and it is just merciless prose, stripped down and laid bare. It’s also a strange, dark and surreal book. His prose is uneven but that sort of adds this the appeal.

    i’m going to have to finish the novel…good review!

    also, have to watch the film as well

  3. Pingback: This Week’s Reading, 3.3.12

  4. I saw the film of this not realising it was a book and could have kicked myself, not because the film was bad as its excellent if incredibly disturbing, as I would have loved to have read the book first. You have added to the desire by the fact it is in first person and that I imagine would really add to this. I must read more noir.

    • I love noir, Simon, and I think you’d ‘enjoy’ this. This was quite indeed disturbing being written in the first person as Lou is so matter of fact when doing his dastardly deeds. Will look forward to comparing with the film.

  5. Pingback: The Undefeated by Jim Thompson (Popular Library 60-8104 – 1969) | Vintage (and not so vintage) Paperbacks

Comments are closed.