Pop quiz time – who is Stephen King talking about here? "The guy was over the top. The guy was absolutely over the top. Big Jim didn't know the meaning of the word stop. There are three brave lets inherent in the foregoing: he let himself see everything, he let himself write it down, then he let himself publish it."
If you guessed Jim Thompson, the hardest of hard-boiled crime novelists, you win a unicorn.
Perusing his wikipedia entry, the sweet seductive smell of failure drifts from your screen and induces you into a life of irrevelry, illegality, illness and, naturally, a not illiberal amount of imbibing the devil’s brew. The kind of thing that buries a worm in the brain of susceptible youthful minds (to wit: Harry Harrison’s bio), to derail any faint hopes of living on the bromide of the straight and narrow.*
In plainer language, Jim makes Jo Nesbo look like a nancy, Mickey Spillane a dilettante, and Cormac McCarthy like a cucumber-sandwich-eating nun on a sabbatical+. Really, that is as plain as we can plain it here. And here lies the difference between the act of reading and that of watching one of the quite excellent movie adaptations (The Grifters, and the Casey Affleck [shiver!] The Killer Inside Me), is that you take an active role in having your mind shredded by the nuanced and severely bloody murder scenes. As Mr King put it, Big Jim really did let himself see and write and publish it down.**
The Grifters, classic 90s noir.
The Killer Inside Me:
And there lies the second takeaway – especially relevant for all us creatives out there with uncomfortable shards of truth lying await in our pulp – Jim let it get published. Read the scene where Deputy Sheriff Lou Ford (what a name!) beats his bokovka^ to death, and then ask yourself why you got through to the next chapter. Then look at the book info at the front and see the date of first publishing – 1952. Rock ’n’ roll hadn’t been invented, and the then-controversial squibtastic Bonnie & Clyde movie was over 15 years away, but how Jim does violence retains its greasy compelling stench 60 years on. And, yes, you will be reaching for the big orange button that says ‘Buy now’ at that well-known online bookstore. Buy now – buy all of ‘em. Gotta catch ‘em all!
To draw this ramble to a close, while Jim’s novels weren’t particularly well-known during his lifetime, the cognoscenti’s interest ensured he made good dollar as a screenwriter and in selling the rights to adapt his work into movies. All other themes of his work are laid bare in the text – we envy you that first crepuscular thrill of discovering a pulp genius. You know you want it. And bad.
* Ha! We schthpit on your purple prose, here at Power’s Tower’s! Schthpit, we say! Fuj!
+ Which he is, let’s face it. That big ole bundle of cuddle that he is. Macho Mary-Sue, he? Nay! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Sue
** Only matched by the novel American Psycho, which was actually banned in the UK for a while. And the frisson of having a copy made it all the more frissonable. Trust us on this. (Movie bombed, IMNSHO^^).
^ Czech for ‘a bit on the side’.
^^ IMNSHO = In My Not So Humble Opinion. Or rather, ours. You don’t seriously think it’s Trey writing these blog posts do you? Does Seth Godin? Those kind of people are too busy to be writing steeenking blog posts. Come on!