Jim Thompson is quickly becoming my favorite noir writer with books like my latest read, After Dark, My Sweet. It’s a story about Williams Collins, an escapee from a mental institution who tries to blend into a small town as a normal person. He’s a very kind man who is too easily persuaded and is subject to violent episodes. Quickly he becomes entangled with a wickedly alcoholic woman named Fay Anderson who pulls him into a sinister plot with her partner in crime, a crocked ex-cop named Uncle Bud. Collins easily sees that he’s being setup to be the fall man in their plot, but his desperate loneliness compels him to stay in tragic company. Fay and Uncle Bud figure him for a prime sucker until they find themselves trapped in their own web and it becomes a deadly game of cut-throat.
Thompson creates a deeply intimate connection between the reader and Collins. We get to feel the inner working of his paranoia, desires, and morality. The characters are deeply flawed people who are surviving by any means necessary. Fear and sex are used for bargaining chips in a game of poker with no cards. It’s interesting to begin psychoanalyzing the characters in an attempt to predict their next move and play their motives. Thompson creates a bond between the reader and Collins in which his existence becomes shared. You don’t want him to get killed because it would mean your death too.
This book is short read of only a 133 pages. It’s amazing how much Thompson can accomplish in such a short time and still make it feel complete. The violence in his work is balanced by the gentle and charming nature of Collins who in the end is both a victim and aggressor. The suspense is worked supremely like a symphony raising and falling with dramatic affect. Murderous sexual tension is never in short supply. O’ how the fragility of people makes for such rewarding entertainment! Jim Thompson is considered a master from the school of hardcore American noir. This is the second book I’ve read by him and I’ll be reviewing another of his books soon.