Critical Overview

Unlike Thompson’s earlier noir novels, The Killer Inside Me has received serious critical attention since it was first published. According to his editor at Lion Books, Thompson wrote the novel quickly, creating the initial draft in just a few weeks, but his genius in doing so was immediately visible. Lion Books tried to position the novel for the National Book Award, and Anthony Boucher, writing for The New York Times Book Review, praised the novel’s experimental qualities and intensity. Despite getting such recognition, Thompson was primarily seen during most of his life as a pulp author, writing only for a popular readership.

In recent years, critics have turned their appreciative attention on Thompson, and much of that attention has focused on The Killer Inside Me. Writing for the Journal of Popular Culture, Kenneth Payne analyzes how Thompson constructed an absurd and effective fictional world by making Lou Ford a schizophrenic killer who knew his own diagnosis. Writing for the Journal of Narrative Theory, David Anshen analyzes the novel’s darkly humorous element: Lou’s use of clichés. Ashen argues that these clichés represent a powerful social critique, namely the self-presentation of capitalism as timeless. Lou’s use of them helps create and sustain the system that allows him to exist and to treat people as disposable things. In The Yale Journal of Criticism, Frederick Whiting takes a different approach to Thompson, analyzing the portrayal of a psychopathic killer in the context of psychoanalytic theory, especially as articulated after World War II. Whiting points out that regardless of the political positions of writers such as Jim Thompson, a member of the Communist Party on the far left, an intense anxiety about society ran through their works. In Thompson’s work, Whiting points out, this anxiety is often cast rather violently on the female body, so that figures like Joyce and Amy bear the brunt of the male protagonists’ disrupted psyches. Whiting also notes how Thompson’s Lou Ford seeks an answer to his “sickness” in his father’s medical library, but ultimately comes up short. Intellectual knowledge is shown to be useless in the face of a passion rooted in childhood psychic trauma.