The title Pop. 1280 refers to the population of Pottsville, Potts County, the smallest county in an unnamed southern state (probably Texas). At 1,280 people, the town is small enough that everyone knows everyone else, but it is large enough to have separate black and white sections, a train depot, a wharf on the river, and a whorehouse. The time is early in the twentieth century—early enough that when Nick goes to the city, he is impressed by the sight of “two, three auty-mo-biles.” Aside from the train, which Nick takes to the city, everyone either walks or rides horses to get around. This sounds innocent and bucolic, but Thompson drives home the filthy aspects of the time and place—filthy literally and symbolically.

There is very little specific given about Pottsville or any place in the novel. Instead, the settings are almost stage sets. Pottsville is a small town, Anytown USA, where the farmers come to market on Saturday and everyone goes to church on Sunday. There are very few secrets that are actually kept secret, and getting along with the pack is more important than any written law. Ken Lacey’s town is larger (even though it only includes 5,000 people), but it is equally generic. As for the specific interior places of Pottsville—the offices, the farms, the bedrooms—they are approximately as realized as the set on a soap opera. They are there for people to storm in and out of, to fight in, to die in, and that is about all. The same is true for exterior settings. There are, for example, no specifics given about “colored town” or the surrounding woods and river. The result is a focus on the interaction between characters and a generalized sense of small-town degradation.


Block, Lawrence. 1990. “A Tale of Pulp and Passion: The Jim Thompson Revival.” New York Times, October 14, p. A37. Block provides an extended review of Pop. 1280.

Gumbel, Andrew. 2002. “An American Travesty.” The Spectator, August, 23, p. B01. This article touches on Pop. 1280 only briefly, using it as an analogy in a news story.

Hunter, Stephen. 1994. “French Go Great Guns for America’s Vintage Pulp Crime Novels.” Buffalo News, February 20, p. G3. Hunter discusses Thompson as one example of a writer that French critics have found greater artistic merit in than American critics have.

Kennedy, Douglas. 1995. “Crime Now Pays.” The Times, London (UK), September 10, p. 1. Kennedy discusses Thompson in the process of reviewing the history of the thriller and its relationship to period culture.

Lee, Susanna. 2003. “The Menace of the Post-Hardboiled Maverick: Jim Thompson’s Pop. 1280 and Modern Television Detective Drama.” Journal of Popular Culture, 37(1): 43-55. This article provides an analysis of Thompson’s novel in relation to the hard-boiled tradition and contemporary culture.

Lukas, Paul. 1998. “The Long and Winding Read.” Money, Vol. 27, Issue 12. This brief article treats Pop. 1280 as simple escapism, essentially dismissing its importance.

Matthews, Tom. 1997. “Death Becomes Him.” The Independent, May 19, p. 12. This brief article provides an overview of Thompson’s work and his contemporary revival.

Polito, Robert. 1995. Savage Art: A Biography of Jim Thompson. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. Polito’s biography provides considerable information on the parallels between this novel and Thompson’s life.

Salm, Arthur. 1991. “Return to the Bloody, Hard World of Thompson Noir.” San Diego Tribune, December 20, p. C3. Salm discusses the reissue of Thompson’s works and how they have influenced recent literary trends, particularly cyberpunk.

Solomon, Charles. 1990. “Pop. 1280 by Jim Thompson.” Los Angeles Times, October 28, p. 14. Solomon gives a brief review on the novel’s reissue. The piece is largely a summary, with some praise.