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I've been a house painter, dishwasher, broiler cook, private detective, military intelligence analyst, and I spent nearly 40 years as a reporter covering crime, 26 of them for the San Francisco Chronicle. These days I write science fiction, fantasy, horror and crime fiction, and I blog about books, films and crimes that don't receive sufficient attention from the mainstream media. I would like to be Elmore Leonard, Raymond Chandler, Ross MacDonald, Dashiell Hammett or George V. Higgins, but all of them are dead so I'll just stick with what I am already doing. . .

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Killer With a Gaping Plot Hole

By Jim Thompson

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Crime/Black Lizard; 1st edition
  • (March 13, 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679733973
  • (Read: Dec. 24-27, 2013)

Lou Ford is a sheriff's deputy in a small West Texas Town. To

 those who know him best, he seems a simple fellow -- even 

simple-minded, in a way. He is slow-witted enough to spend a 

half-hour talking about a glass of water, his conversation 

consists primarily of cliches and he doesn't seem to have a 

mean bone in his body.

But Ford has a secret: beneath his bumpkinesque facade he is a twisted murderer and sadist who plays the part of a simpleton in order to conceal the fact he is much smarter than most of the people around him. His masquerade as a rustic rube has enabled him to win him the trust of the sheriff and the county prosecutor, the friendship and admiration of most of his village's citizens, and the heart of one of the most eligible young women in town.

In his secret life, however, Ford is regularly banging a sado-masochistic prostitute, plotting to scam a sizable sum from the son of the richest man in town, and barely able to hold his appetite for murder in check. 

Ford is the villain/protagonist of "The Killer Inside Me," Jim Thompson's case study of psychopathy. The young deputy commits four cold-blooded murders -- one of which is described in a particularly raw and brutal fashion -- and engineers the death of two additional victims before it the book is done.

I wanted to like this book, and Thompson gives readers a lot to work with. The dialog is good, the author's eye for detail and original turns of phrase are in top form, and his characters are sharply drawn. 

The only problem is the novel's plot: it has a hole in it big enough to serve as the hangar for Howard Hughes' "Spruce Goose."

I won't give it away here because it would undermine much of the book's suspense. Suffice to say, Thompson doesn't play fair with his readers, and deliberately misleads them about a critical piece of evidence that emerges at the end of the book in a clumsy deus ex machina conclusion.

This is particularly disappointing because it violates the basic tenet of the crime novel: if you are going to use a trick ending, do it through misdirection, not by establishing a set of facts at one point in the book only to abandon them at the denouement. It is the figurative equivalent of getting to the end of the book only to find out that everything that took place before was simply a dream.

This book, which is considered one of Thompson's masterpieces, has inspired two different motion picture versions. Unfortunately, the sloppy ending gives the impression that Thompson simply got tired of plotting "The Killer Inside Me" and slapped together a conclusion so he could get the manuscript off to the publisher.

I liked it, but it really isn't top-shelf stuff.

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