Synopses & Reviews
Lou Ford is the deputy sheriff of a small town in Texas. The worst thing most people can say against him is that he's a little slow and a little boring. But, then, most people don't know about the sickness the sickness that almost got Lou put away when he was younger. The sickness that is about to surface again.
An underground classic since its publication in 1952, The Killer Inside Me is the book that made Jim Thompson's name synonymous with the roman noir.
"Jim Thompson is the best suspense writer going, bar none." The New York Times
About the Author
(1906 - 1977) James Meyers Thompson was born in Anadarko, Oklahoma. He began writing fiction at a very young age, selling his first story to True Detective when he was only fourteen. Thompson eventually wrote twenty-nine novels, all but three of which were published as paperback originals. Thompson also wrote two screenplays (for the Stanley Kubrick films “The Killing” and “Paths of Glory”). An outstanding crime writer, the world of his fiction is rife with violence and corruption. In examining the underbelly of human experience and American society in particular, Thompsons work at its best is both philosophical and experimental. Several of his novels have been filmed by American and French directors, resulting in classic noir including The Killer Inside Me (1952), After Dark My Sweet (1955), and The Grifters (1963).
Reading Group Guide
The questions, discussion topics, and author biographies that follow are designed to
enhance your reading of three outstanding selections from the "hard-boiled" school of
crime writing: The Maltese Falcon
by Dashiell Hammett, The Long Goodbye
Chandler, and The Killer Inside Me
by Jim Thompson. We hope that they will provide you
with new ways of looking at--and talking about--the nature of detective fiction, as well
as give you insight into how the hard-boiled style of writing emerged in the genre; how
the style was shaped by twentieth-century American culture and by the lives of the men
who created it; and how this form of writing has subsequently affected the way we view
ourselves as Americans.
1. For discussion: The Killer Inside Me
In a first-person narration, Deputy Sheriff Lou Ford comments to himself, "If there's anything worse than a bore, it's a corny bore" [p. 4]. How does Thompson use dialogue to dramatize Ford's character? When Lou gazes in the mirror, he describes what he sees: the Stetson, a pinkish shirt, a "typical Western-country peace officer, that was me" [p. 28]. In another context, this would be a mundane description, but what more does it tell us about Lou Ford?
2. Lou says he reads German, French, and Italian medical journals. "I couldn't speak any of those languages worth a doggone, but I could understand 'em all" [p. 27], he says. Is his claim credible in the context of what we learn about him? In what incidents is his self-taught education in evidence, and how is it perceived by others? What would erudition represent to a Lou Ford? The journals are in his father's library. What role does his father play in his psyche?
3. Lou's recollections are often ambiguous, more implied than specific, such as his traumatic boyhood involvement with his family's housekeeper, Helene. What is Helene's transgression in Lou's mind, and what role does he ascribe to it in the context of his "sickness"? Is this thought process a recurrent pattern in Lou's pathology?
4. Early in the story Sheriff Bob Maples suggests to Lou, "Watch youself. It's a good act but it's easy to overdo" [p. 25]. Later, at the hotel in Fort Worth, he drunkenly repeats his caution: "Wash--watch y'self.... S-stop all a' stuff spilt milk n' so on. Wha' you do that for, anyway" [p. 85]. Is he implying that Lou's "act" has not been as convincing as Lou thinks? How does Ford react? What is Bob's relationship to Lou, and why does he ultimately resolve it the way he does? Is the relationship credible as portrayed by Jim Thompson?
5. In his treatment of Central City and its citizenry, how does Thompson characterize small-town America?
6. As Lou kills his girlfriend, Amy, he pauses to notice what she's wearing, he sits down to read the paper, he makes puns on her penny-pinching. How do these actions serve the description of a violent act? How important are descriptions of violence in the story of Lou Ford? How, overall, are violent sequences presented?
7. At the novel's end, Lou has set fire to the library and probably the rest of the house. To what extent is this a biblical, spiritual climax? Or is the fire an act grounded in psychological pathology? It is, after all, Lou's father's house. Is the elegiac final paragraph an extension of the spiritual theme, or is it a chilling reminder of the nihilism that has subsumed Lou Ford up until that moment?
Comparing the Hammett, Chandler, and Thompson:
1. How does the way Chandler uses Los Angeles in The Long Goodbye resemble or differ from the way Hammett uses San Francisco in The Maltese Falcon? To what extent is this the result of their individual writing styles? Does Thompson resemble either writer with his descriptions of the West Texas oil country in The Killer Inside Me? How important is setting in each of these novels?
2. Although they were brilliant innovators and stylists, Hammett and Chandler were writing for a genre that dictated resolution of the plot. Thompson, on the other hand, in The Killer Inside Me creates a plot rife with ambiguity. What element or elements of his predecessors' style does Thompson retain? Could Thompson have written The Killer Inside Me without the models of Hammett and Chandler?
3. Thompson inverts traditional crime fiction by writing from the viewpoint of the criminal instead of the detective. In the novels of Hammett and Chandler, how different is the criminal from the detective? Where do Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe fall in their respective, or mutual, attitudes toward authority and law?
4. How does the characterization of women in The Maltese Falcon compare with those in The Long Goodbye? Is Brigid O'Shaughnessy the equivalent of Eileen Wade? Is Effie Perine the equivalent of Linda Loring? What do the differences in these characters tell you about the hard-boiled style? About the authors?
5. Chandler and Thompson write in the first person, and Hammett uses the third person in The Maltese Falcon. How would each of these novels have been affected--for better or worse--if the voice had been reversed? What are the inherent advantages and/or limitations of writing in the first or third person?