Before Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter, there was Jim Thompson’s charismatic killer Lou Ford. The main character of The Killer Inside Me, Ford is an early, vivid, and at times extremely human portrait of a sociopath. Lou does not just pass for normal in the novel: he is normal—except when he is killing, or having violent sex, or injecting himself with drugs left over from his father’s medical practice. As a result of this juxtaposition of a friendly next-door neighbor with a casually savage killer, The Killer Inside Me is hypnotic. The way Lou’s life, his small Texas town, and his surface persona disintegrate throughout the novel leads to an inevitably calamitous ending, but readers for over half a century have not been able to look away.
The Killer Inside Me won considerable praise in 1952 when it was published, and in the years since, the book has come to be seen as one of the pivotal texts in the American noir tradition. In the novel, Jim Thompson turns a critical eye on small-town America and exposes it as corrupt and perverted, a verdict that would be shocking even now, but which in the 1950s seemed like sacrilege.