Friday, January 21, 2011

Review of The Killer Inside Me by Jim Thompson (1952, Orion)

Deputy Sheriff Lou Ford is a well liked and respected member of Central City’s community. He’s known for being good with problem prisoners, able to talk them round, and being somewhat over-friendly with the public. But it’s all part of Ford’s strategy to manage his ‘sickness’ after the death of his father and his adopted brother, Mike, killed on a construction site owned by Chester Conway. Mike had been sent to reform school for sexually assaulting a young girl, taking the rap for Ford, and his death was no accident. Ford has a score to settle Conway just as soon as the right opportunity arises. And that opportunity is Joyce Lakeland. Only Joyce has reawakened his sickness – his brutal dark side. Their violent first encounter drives a wedge between Ford and fiancée and sets in train a spate of murders in Central City. Ford thinks he’s covered his tracks, but now his inner demon has re-emerged he finds himself slowly becoming the attention of suspicion.

The Killer Inside Me is a curious read in that it manages to maintain its suspense throughout despite the unfolding of the story holding few surprises. Ford is a sociopath in the sense that at one level he appears normal and he’s self-aware of his ‘sickness’, but he’s manipulative and deceitful, has shallow emotions, lacks empathy and remorse, and can flip into extreme violence. Thompson does a great job of exploring Ford’s complex personality as he uses all of his sociopathic traits to exercise his revenge and cover up his trail through deception and calculated violence. The writing is tight, all tell and no show, and plotting and characterization is excellent. Where it excels is in exploring Ford’s warped mind and world, without resorting to excessive description and back story, and yet being dotted with nuanced insight. I was slightly disappointed by the end, but it fitted with the rest of the narrative, and the plotting was a little forced at times. I was expecting the book to be uber-violent, but actually it’s reasonably run of the mill by today’s standards and is certainly not excessive. Overall, a great character driven read that’s very thought-provoking. I've another Thompson already lined up; looking forward to it.

1 comment:

Margot Kinberg said...

Rob - Thanks for this review. I'm very glad you liked this novel. As you say, it's an absolutely fascinating character study, and it is is (or so I think, anyway) quite compelling.