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Thompson, Jim

lawman writing james american

(US, 1906–77)

Jim Thompson, often cited as a dime-store Dostoevsky, is the archetypal poet of modern noir writing. A hack of the original heyday of American paperback publishing, and an alcoholic, Thompson managed to imbue even his lesser commercial efforts with a deep sense of fatalism reminiscent of Greek tragedies, and, unsung in his lifetime, is now recognized as a major voice in American writing, well beyond the parameters of crime. Born in Oklahoma, he went to the University of Nebraska and later had a variety of jobs including oil pipeline worker, steeplejack, and gambler, and collaborated with Stanley Kubrick on his earlier films. The Killer Inside Me (1952) is the chilling first-person narrative of a psychopathic lawman on a murder spree and is a frightful portrait of evil in its day-to-day ordinariness. This familiarity with the banality of the darkness of the soul is a Thompson trademark and shines unhealthily in his best books, Savage Night (1953), The Grifters (1963), Pop. 1280 (1964), the last two having been the object of cult movies, respectively about low-life California scam artists and the murderous wrath of a deranged Texas lawman set on revenge. Thompson wrote twenty-nine novels; even at his sloppiest and most rushed, they all bear witness to a dark, fascinating talent.

James Ellroy, James M. Cain  MJ

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