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Year End Review: A Few Thoughts on Jim Thompson and The Grifters

With 2013 just around the corner, it’s the perfect time to sit back and reflect on another year of great content and great books. Check back twice daily in the last days of 2012 for a selection of our favorite MulhollandBooks.com posts from the past year!

There are those moments in life so powerful and disturbing that they defy definition.  For me, Jim Thompson’s novels provide such moments.  Or maybe it’s more fair to say they knock me into them backwards—ass over applecart.

Apparently, I’m not alone in that.  Read what’s been said about Thompson, and you see that everyone is grasping: “If Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett and Cornell Woolrich could have joined together in some ungodly union and produced a literary offspring, Jim Thompson would be it….His work…casts a dazzling light upon the human condition.”

This is the first quote about Thompson’s work that many readers encounter, the Washington Post blurb splashed on the back of the Vintage Crime/Black Lizard editions that came out in the 1990s, after years when it was hard to find Thompson’s novels.  It’s evocative, and for fans of hard-boiled it has a dreamlike feel.  But ultimately it’s not very helpful.

Why?  Well, the problem with any definition that works by comparison is that it can only sketch around a thing: a chalk mark on a sidewalk, it misses the heart of the matter entirely—the heart that is so raw, so terribly visible, it forces you to work through analogy in the first place. “What does Hammett have to do with anything?” you might argue.  “There is none of his carefully-controlled and sleekly-styled disillusion here.  Surely the reviewer should have said Chandler, Cain, and Woolrich.  Or better, Cain, Woolrich and Chandler, in that order.”  In no time, what is Thompson’s is lost.

Yet such an approach is understandable, for to look at the heart of Thompson’s work… Well, it’s a hard place to look.  But in the end, the only way to get at it is to read, and then live with the consequences for a while. Continue reading “Year End Review: A Few Thoughts on Jim Thompson and The Grifters”

Jim Thompson: An Appreciation

The e-book Jim Thompson’s THE KILLER INSIDE ME, the novel Stanley Kubrick deemed “probably the most chilling and believable first-person story of a criminally warped mind I have ever encountered,” is on sale for just $2.99 for the Nook, Kindle, and the iBookstore. Now is the perfect time to introduce yourself to one of the great classics of twentieth century crime fiction–at a bargain price, and including an intro from Stephen King.

Looking for even more of an introduction? Check out the below essay on Thompson from our very own Joe R. Lansdale.

Jim Thompson has been called a dime store Dostoevsky, but an oil field Faulkner might be more accurate. He wrote not only about the common man, he wrote like the common man, with words full of raw truth mixed with sweet and sticky lies; wicked stories written with a glass of whisky at his elbow.

I had never heard of Jim Thompson growing up. And this surprises me. I read all manner of novels by all manner of writers, and a writer like Thompson was just my meat, but it wasn’t until Stephen King commented on him, that he hit my radar.

Not long after that, I saw Thompson’s work everywhere, and I dove in. As a fellow Texan, same as a I had with the work of Robert E. Howard, another Texan, I recognized people I knew. Howard gussied them up in loin cloths and gave them swords, made them melancholy heroes, but Thompson’s characters were contemporary, and though melancholy for the most part, were considerably short on heroics. They were the dregs of society; little people with dreams too large for them to hold; dreams they drove all over the highways of their ambitions like a drunk at the wheel of a muscle car with bad tires.

There is no one quite like Thompson in low or high literature. He was his own man, and stories like THE KILLER INSIDE ME, THE GRIFTERS, and, well pretty much everything he ever wrote, are as unique as the pattern of a snow flake. They are his snow flakes, and they are soiled and stink of cheap liquor, but you will find no other like him. Many have tried to imitate him, but have only brought the literary equivalent of loud horns and dirty laundry to the game.

Thompson was his own man. Sad and dark, oozing rotten sex and rotten dreams, all of it touched with a kind cheap carnival atmosphere; the kind where the bolts on the rides shake and it‘s best to keep your hand on your wallet. A writer primarily confined to the literary back alleys of cheap paperbacks written in bursts as dynamic as the spewing of an oil gusher.

He was, for better or worse, the great and unique, Jim Thompson.

Joe R. Lansdale

Nacogdoches, Texas

Joe R. Lansdale is the author of more than a dozen novels, including THE BOTTOMS, A FINE DARK LINE, and LEATHER MAIDEN. He has received the British Fantasy Award, the American Mystery Award, the Edgar Award, the Grinzane Cavour Prize for Literature, and eight Bram Stoker Awards. He lives with his family in Nacogdoches, Texas. Mulholland Books will publish his next novel, EDGE OF DARK WATER, in March 2012.

Over the next year, Mulholland Books will be publishing Jim Thompson’s entire body of work in e-book format for the first time. THE KILLER INSIDE ME, THE GRIFTERS, AFTER DARK, MY SWEET, A SWELL-LOOKING BABE and THE NOTHING MAN are now available–look for the next batch on Christmas Day.