I am not one for mystery novels, but I enjoy visiting the Mysterious Bookshop in lower Manhattan near where I work. It’s a large, airy store, with couches, and lots of displays, and the people are friendly. I purchased a massive anthology of crime pulp to pass the time on my commute. (I believe the editor owns the store). There I found a copy of Jim Thompson’s A Hell of Woman tossed onto a shelf of miscellaneous books.
I wouldn’t call Thompson’s book a mystery by any means. That’s not his style. Crime, murder, brutality, ice pick sharp dialog, and a fair amount of suspense – did I say insanity – are what hold your attention. Waiting for the denouement Agatha Christie style, it’s not. Perhaps I’m not fair to the mystery genre, but that’s me…
Once I read A Hell of a Woman and realized Thompson’s connection with Stanley Kubrick, and the films The Grifters and The Getaway, I knew I’d read more. One thing, one comment lead to another, and now Tilting Planet is having a Thompson Noir Fest, and I’m getting the jump on it!
Thompson’s novels -the ones for the Fest are shown above – make an interesting bookend to the Black Mask stories. Those are shorter, of course, and mostly written decades before, so the sex and violence is much less explicit. For the most part, the Black Mask tales exemplify the hard-boiled style: detectives are either macho or quiet, intelligent, crafty types; dialog is clipped, emphasizing declarative sentences. The style seems to heavily favor the passive voice: things just happen. The characters react. There is often emphasis on detection, deduction, and mystery rather than on suspense and vérité crime; and the baddies are simply bad, perhaps perverse, but not usually sickos.
Thompson, from the first two I’ve read (Hell of a Woman and Killer Inside Me), true to his monniker, the dime store Dostoyevsky, favors first-person narratives by disturbed individuals, sometimes in throes of deep mental disorders. Things always go from bad to worse, and no rational detectives guide the action to a satisfying conclusion. Just when you think that things can’t get any sicker, they do. It keeps me reading!