Thursday, July 16, 2009

missed it the first time, hard-boiled edition: The Killer Inside Me by Jim Thompson

For Thursdays in July, we've been profiling some classic detective/hard-boiled crime noir stories. Previous missed it the first time, hard-boiled editions:
Double Indemnity by James Cain
Chandler/Hammett stories

The Killer Inside Me, by Jim Thompson
Original publication: Lion Books, 1952

"A weed is a plant out of place."--Billy Boy Walker
This book will get a lot more pub in the coming months as it's about to spring (again) as a movie starring Casey Affleck, Kate Hudson and Jessica Alba. It was a film in 1976, but I think Thompson was disappointed. I think Affleck will be able to pull of the role of Lou Ford, his work in Jesse James and Gone Baby Gone holds promise. But it will be a memorable role to play, because of the intellect and "rational" nature of Ford. The Central City, TX deputy sheriff turned killer never has a rampage per se, but instead closely justifies each and every murder, even developing "reasonable" alibis.

The first scene is a restaurant diner where Lou bores to the owner to death with a series of silly cliches about the weather and hard work. This is the personality that Ford has in the town, that of an unassuming likable oaf. But that he has a secret desire or ability for that matter is not a far stretch--those attracted to defending the law becoming breakers of it is pretty common. Thompson could very well have settled for an easy storyline, but instead he gives Lou a complex mind that no one in the small West Texas town possesses. Ford does calculus problems for fun. He reads medical books in four languages. He questions a visitor posing as a doctor about gerontology theories.

In Lou's constant monologue to the reader, we are put in doubt about whether Lou is insane or in full capacity of his thoughts. He may know he has "the sickness," but self-diagnoses himself to the point where believing he is insane is laughable. Lou is fully in control of his actions , can come up with full alibis and allows nothing to break him.

But the (other) local authorities think there has to be the breaking point for Lou, the reason for his actions. But as Ford says no one knows if there is a reason:
"We might have the disease, the condition; or we might just be cold-blooded and smart as hell; or we might be innocent of what we're suppoed to have done. We might be any one of those three things, becasue the symptoms we show would fit any one of the three."
Thompson works around this by creating a complex confluence of events (like every good novelist should) around a certain point in time to create a circumstantial reason. Ford is trying to avenge his brother's death, and finds an opening with a prostitute, Joyce. What falls in the wake of Ford's killings is not just those who may have offended him in some way--he also begins to kill those he love. So he frames and then kills the only friend that admires him, then kills his girlfriend Amy as well. Ford is not scared of killing, he is afraid of not wanting to kill any longer. Afraid of satisfaction, of actual love. And he can't stop it, even in the final scene after he supposedly learns from Billy Boy Walker. Like many noir characters, he thrives on perceived entrapment and paranoia. Every person is to blame for his victimhood.

What's compelling and maddening at the same time is Lou's quick decision-making process--it is abundantly clear that he has no problem killing and wants to kill those that do not possess such a quick trigger finger (see the bum). Lou has a reason to kill everyone then--he kills those that offend him, then those that don't have the guts to offend him. He has "the sickness," knows he has it. It's comforting to say Lou is insane, it's frightening to think that he's not--that he's of his right mind.

1 comment:

  1. Read Ken Bruen's "Calibre" for fun liberties on "The Killer Inside Me." Really, it's great.


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