Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Jim Thompson

Jim Thompson is a great 20th century American writer. He wrote a string of pulp fiction novels in the 1950s that are unequaled in quality and quantity.

Excuse me, I am going to have to qualify that claim. I love literature, history, biography and fiction and have read many wonderful and satisfying books, but I have to say that Jim Thompson is the greatest writer of American fiction --- maybe ever.

When I first discovered Thompson about thirty years ago, he was dead, buried and so were his books. All of them out of print. But thank --- God--? there are libraries, where I had already found many intriguing short stories of the inimitable Dashiell Hammett. But Jim Thompson is now back in print. And I know that my hounding book stores to stock some tentative printings of THE KILLER INSIDE ME in the mid 80s led to further re-prints and an eventual explosion of Thompson titles. And also to a spate of motion pictures.

THE GRIFTERS wasn't bad, but generally the American films were a total bust. The French, however, seemed to really grasp Thompson. Not too surprisingly, SHOOT THE PIANO PLAYER was taken from a David Goodis novel, as have been many of the French and Japanese crime thrillers.

But the French cinema really did itself proud with COUP DE TORCHON and SERIE NOIR. You will never see a film more intriguing, spellbinding, shocking and heartbreaking than these; unless possibly a Frenchman will adapt SAVAGE NIGHT, which is the most Jim Thompson novel of them all. I would love to read it again, but am a bit too faint of heart.


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