Jim Thompson

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

When Jim Thompson died in 1977, all of his works were out of print and he was a forgotten man. Now various publishers are scrambling to reissue many of his thirty hard-boiled novels. Thompson is so popular with a certain segment of the reading public that booksellers cannot keep these reissues in stock.

One of the reasons for the Thompson revival was the interest taken in this ultra-nihilistic author by French critics, who always seem to be teaching Americans what Americans have failed to value in their own culture. Like other so-called noir writers, including Cornell Woolrich, Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, James M. Cain, and Horace McCoy, Jim Thompson’s grim view of life seems to mesh perfectly with French existentialism, the pessimistic and socialistic philosophy molded in the cauldron of World War II.

Thompson may have been too hardboiled for even the golden age of hardboiled fiction, the 1920’s, 1930’s, and 1940’s; however, the dog-eat-dog spirit of the 1990’s seems finally to have caught up with him. Another reason for his reemergence has been the stampede of Hollywood producers to adapt his novels to the screen. The year 1990 saw the release of three American films based on Thompson’s novels: AFTER DARK, MY SWEET; THE KILL-OFF; and THE GRIFTERS.

Unfortunately, Jim Thompson was such an obscure, overworked hack during his alcohol-haunted and guilt-ridden lifetime that biographer Michael J. McCauley has had a...

(The entire section is 403 words.)