Jim Thompson Analysis


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Jim Thompson brought a level of psychological realism to crime novels seldom achieved by writers in that or any other genre. He explored the criminal mind in chilling and powerful first-person narrations, presenting the ordinary world through the eyes of brutal and brutalized killers to whom commonplace morality and rules of behavior do not apply. Thompson’s killers tell their stories and describe their savage behavior without entirely losing the reader’s sympathy and understanding, yet Thompson did not justify or excuse his criminals because of their warped environments, nor did he maintain the reader’s sympathy by providing his killers with unusually despicable victims. He achieved something much more difficult: He persuasively presented a world that causes readers to suspend their ordinary moral judgments as too simplistic and abstract to apply to the margins of society inhabited by his characters.


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Brewer, Gay. Laughing Like Hell: The Harrowing Satires of Jim Thompson. San Bernardino, Calif.: Borgo Press, 1996. Explores the use of humor in Thompson’s work and the relationship between satire and crime fiction.

Collins, Max Allan. Jim Thompson: The Killers Inside Him. Cedar Rapids, Iowa: Fedora Press, 1983. Biography of Thompson by an equally famous author of hard-boiled and pulp crime fiction.

Horsley, Lee. The Noir Thriller. New York: Palgrave, 2001. Scholarly, theoretically informed study of the thriller genre. Uses Thompson extensively, covering a dozen of his novels, from Nothing More than Murder to Child of Rage.

McCauley, Michael J. Jim Thompson: Sleep with the Devil. New York: Mysterious Press, 1991. McCauley calls Thompson “America’s greatest noir writer” and endeavors to explain how he achieved that lofty status.

Pepper, Andrew. The Contemporary American Crime Novel: Race, Ethnicity, Gender, Class. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2000. Examination of the representation and importance of various categories of identity in mainstream American crime fiction. Sheds light on Thompson’s work.

Polito, Robert. “Jim Thompson: Lost Writer.” In Fireworks: The Lost Writings of Jim Thompson. New York: Donald I. Fine, 1988. Discussion of unpublished and otherwise “lost” manuscripts and what they add to Thompson’s oeuvre.

Polito, Robert. Savage Art: A Biography of Jim Thompson. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995. Massive, comprehensive biography of Thompson, his work, and both his public and private lives. Bibliographic references and index.

Sallis, James. Difficult Lives: Jim Thompson, David Goodis, Chester Himes. Brooklyn, N.Y.: Gryphon Books, 1993. Brief monograph comparing the works of three hard-boiled writers.

Yarbrough, Trisha. “Jim Thompson’s Rural Pulp Fiction.” In Dark Alleys of Noir, edited by Jack O’Connell. Vashon Island, Wash.: Paradoxa, 2002. Looks at Thompson’s relatively unusual choice to set pulp tales outside the big city.