There seems to be a resurgence for Jim Thompson’s novels. His books are dark in the category of pulp crime fiction. His narrators – at least in the two books I’ve read from him – are sociopaths. I was interested in reading Jim Thompson because Jo Nesbø listed him as one of his favorite writers. I would have gotten around to Thompson on my own eventually I’m sure. His novels are said to have no heroes. Despite the protagonist being a cold blooded killer this book was an engrossing read.
I read Pop. 1280 earlier this year and there are some similarities with The Killer Inside Me. Comparing the two books going forward, both novels feature a small town murdering sheriff who comes across as friendly and pleasant until they’re not. The novels are told in first person. His narrators tend to hide behind a well crafted facade, usually that of a simpleton, that slowly falls away with disastrous results. They are cold-blooded and without conscience. In their own minds, everything seems normal and within reason if it gets them what they want in the end. Their social roles allow them to hide in plain sight.
Just like Pop. 1280, The Killer Inside Me is set in a remote West Texas town in the 1950′s. Deputy sheriff Lou Ford lives in an oil town that right after the oil boom, the population grew to 48,000 people. Ford is the son of a well-respected doctor. In town, Ford has a reputation for not using force. In general most people in town look at Ford as a good and decent fellow. A likable guy. Problem is the folks in Central City have no idea that their friendly sheriff is a psychotic killer.
The smiley, friendly deputy sheriff doesn’t like carrying a gun since Central City lacks much in the way of crime and his philosophy is that “people are people, if you don’t hurt them, they won’t hurt you.” Just a few pages away though the first crack in Lou’s veneer shows up. He’s sharing his unsolicited, rambling thoughts with the restaurant owner who approaches him and thanks him for turning his troublesome son around. Ford tells us that:
I liked the guy–as much as I like most people, anyway — but he was too good to let go. Polite, intelligent: guys like that are my meat.
Ford is later asked by the sheriff to pay a visit to the local prostitute – Joyce Lakeland. The preachers in town have complained about her and want her gone even though she isn’t flashy and keeps to herself. Ford visits with her and finds the resurgence his “sickness” threatening to come back. He hadn’t felt these urges since he was fourteen years old. Thus begins his murdering rampage.
It was interesting to see Ford depend on his reputation to keep him in the clear. Even if people suspected him of murder, many didn’t want to believe it. The author did manage to give Ford some humanity in order for readers to follow him as a narrator. He really does come off as a likable guy and when he’s not well-. He does have a couple of people who suspect the truth and give him a hard time but still, his carefully maintained facade just about keeps him in the clear.
The transition from that of the friendly sheriff to that of a cold-blooded killer was chilling. Ford had many faces. One of the loving boyfriend. One of the friendly sheriff and then the one face few folks get to see and live to tell about. The suspense parts of the story pertain mostly to the paranoia that sets in from his thoughts of persecution and the suspicions from the community that continued to grow, questioning his involvement in these murders.
From the start of the novel there were signs that something was off. His inappropriate affectation. His total disdain for people. His internal thoughts grew increasingly disorganized as the story progressed.The dichotomy of his personality was the most engrossing part of this story for me along with the county attorney grilling him.
Stephen King wrote the introduction to The Killer Inside Me saying that this novel deserves to be on the same shelf as “Moby-Dick, Huckleberry Finn, The Sun Also Rises and As I Lay Dying. I understand what he means. This is a moral story and is worth the read to me. There really isn’t more I can say about this story. The title is apt and gives you an idea of what this story is about.
Jim Thompson’s The Killer Inside Me was a memorable story with a memorable character. While the premise is a hard one to embrace, I think the author succeeds in whatever it was he was aiming for with this story. The Killer Inside Me is one novel that I will not soon forget and would recommend it to readers who read dark stories. My grade, B+.
Notes: There is a movie version of this book that released in 2010 and starred Casey Affleck as Lou Ford. I’ve not seen the movie and will see it someday. Source: I bought this ebook when it was on sale for $2.99 Notable reviews: Mrs P’s review which is an excellent analysis of the book.