Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Book Review: The Killer Inside Me by Jim Thompson

Publication Date: 1952 in US
Format: Paperback


Lou Ford is the deputy sheriff of a small town in Texas. The worst thing most people can say against him is that he's a little slow and a little boring. But, then, most people don't know about the sickness--the sickness that almost got Lou put away when he was younger. The sickness that is about to surface again.

Joshua's Take: 4.0/5☆

Why I picked up the book: because I love me a good, hard crime novel and the recent movie adaptation got me all kinds of giddy to read this original cult classic. Oh, and it has a blurb from Stanley Kubrick, I mean come on, what more do you need?

The serial killer genre has always been a popular one especially in books, where the average citizen for a few hours and days can look inside the mind of a killer, live inside, and yet peacefully go back to their ordinary daily lives with a flick of the wrist, the closing of the front cover, f it ever got to be to much. Anthony Hopkins brought the world to a standstill in 1991 with his terrifying portrayal of everyone's favorite cannibal Hannibal Lecter. And in that same year, Brett Easton Ellis brought everyone's mind's to a frenzy with American Psycho, and then with 2001's movie adaptation which made Christan Bale into one of the most charismatic, outrageous and apologetically tragic "hero's" in recent memory. Then came HBO's Dexter, and now it seems like rooting for the serial killer has become chic, become popular culture. But if one were to ask me, what is one of the greatest example of a serial killer novel, a work written from the POV of the character, I would have to say it would be Jim Thompson's 1952 cult classic, The Killer Inside Me.

I'm not going to talk about the story since I don't want to give anything away. Just go into this with an open mind, blind to all the twists and turns, and you'll be begging for more. This is an amazing read, one that is so realistic, so relentless, so unflinchingly cruel and paranoid, a work with words that literally crawl inside your ears, pounding away at your ear drums in a rhythmic staccato of mayhem, that you have to wonder, was Jim Thompson this brilliant or this demented? Thompson's prose is almost staccato, brilliant bursts of short, clipped sentences that make the story and the lead, Lou Ford, all the more terrifying, like each word is brooded upon before said.

The greatest thing a writer can do is make the reader feel like they're inside the mind of the characters, and Jim Thompson does that so convincingly that you wish he wasn't as great of a wordsmith. Director Stanley Kubrick once said of the novel that The Killer Inside Me was, "probably the most chilling and believable first-person story of a criminally warped mind I have ever encountered" and I couldn't agree more. What's so frightening is that Lou Ford appears like the everyman, the country hick that's in every small town down throughout the state-lines. He's somebody you would feel comfortable asking for directions, even feel pity for his lot in life. From a distance, Lou's crimes would be horrific but tempered, however inside the mind of Lou, the only narrator of a sick play, that's when you move on from horrific to mind-altering. Even better is that with Lou being the only narrator, with every crime and murder being told only by him, you have to question how truthful the whole story is, how far can you take his words at face value and even if you want to. I can only imagine outcry there must have been when this book hit stands back in 1952.

Here is a brilliant work of fiction that perfectly fits what the term "noir" is, a term that feels watered down as every publisher and movie studio looks to coin their works "noir." It's a short read, one that I read as I traveled back and forth to and from Houston, 8 hours total, a short work that will stay in your mind for years to come.

I'm really looking forward to watching the movie adaptation which got a very limited release back in June and stars Casey Affleck, Kate Hudson and Jessica Alba. Just thinking of those actors in the lead roles sends my mind to endless fancies.

Here is a story where every character is tragic and one where sadly everyone gets theirs, a powerful and painful look into the mind of a killer, who realizes what he's doing is wrong, even wants to stop, but can't, because of the "sickness", a sickness that could very well be breeding deep down inside all of us if we ever choose to look. A must-read.

No comments: