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The Killer Inside Me by Jim Thompson

July 20, 2014


Continuing on my southern crime kick, I came across this book while browsing at a bookstore in Oakland. The blurb on the front is from Stanley Kubrick, who collaborated with (and reportedly cheated Thompson of credit) on a few movies. The blurb on the back, from the New York Times, proclaims “Jim Thompson is the best suspense writer going.” And the man working the counter where I bought the book  said, “Good ‘ol Jim Thompson,” which seemed positive.

This is a novel about Lou Ford, a deputy sheriff in a small Texas town. He’s liked fairly well by most people, although many consider him a little simple, a little slow. But, as we find out, that’s very much a deliberate act. Lou knows exactly what he’s doing and how he’s perceived. He plays dumb so nobody will suspect him of a rather dubious habit.

Roman noir is a sub-genre of crime fiction in which we get the story from the criminal’s point of view. The Killer Inside Me is perhaps the most famous example (a photo of the book is on the Wikipedia page for “roman noir.”) Much of the fun comes from the unique point of view. We sympathize with and root for the killer as he tries to outsmart the detectives. It’s fairly pulpy, drawing linguistic inspiration from hardboiled detective novels, but Thompson can turn a phrase, as when one of his characters observes that “there’s all kinds of ways of dying, but only one way of being dead.” Or when Lou describes how he and his girlfriend met: “We’d just drifted together like straws in a puddle.”

Or late in the book when Lou waxes philosophical on the speed of life: “You make coffee and smoke a few cigarettes; and the hands of the clock have gone crazy on you. They haven’t moved hardly, they’ve hardly budged out of the place you last saw them, but they’ve measured off a half? two thirds? of your life. You’ve got forever, but that’s no time at all…You’ve got forever; and it’s a mile wide and an inch deep and full of alligators.”

But maybe the best bit of dialogue comes from our crooked deputy as he’s counseling a rebellious kid who’s just been pinned with one of Lou’s crimes. As if commenting on the inverted morality of the book itself while showing off his peculiar way of thinking, he says:

                  We’re living in a funny world, kid, a peculiar civilization. The police are playing crooks in it, and the crooks are doing police duty. The politicians are preachers and the preachers are politicians. The tax collectors collect for themselves. The Bad People want us to have more dough, and the Good People are fighting to keep it from us. It’s not good for us, know what I mean? If we all had all we wanted to eat, we’d crap too much. We’d have inflation in the toilet paper industry. That’s the way I understand it. That’s the size of some of the arguments I’ve heard…

…What they’re worried about is guys like you. They’re worried about guys liking a drink and taking it. Guys getting a piece of tail without paying a preacher for it. Guys who know what makes ‘em feel good and aren’t going to be talked out of the motion…They don’t like you guys, and they crack down on you.

Jim Thompson died in 1977. He published over thirty novels, though his work didn’t gain wide recognition until after his death when some of his books were re-published and became cult classics. Several were turned into films, including The Getaway and The Grifters.

One Comment leave one →
  1. July 21, 2014 12:04 pm

    The Killer Inside Me is probably the most disturbing book I’ve ever read.

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