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Savage Night

3.86  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,396 Ratings  ·  110 Reviews
Is Carl Bigelow a fresh-faced college kid looking for a room, or is he a poised hit man tracking down his victim? And if Carl is really two people, what about everyone around him? Savage Night is Thompson at his best, with plot reversals and nightmarish shifts of identity.
Paperback, 149 pages
Published November 5th 1991 by Vintage (first published 1953)
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The Killer Inside Me by Jim ThompsonDouble Indemnity by James M. CainThe Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. CainRed Harvest by Dashiell HammettA Hell of a Woman by Jim Thompson
Alan Guthrie's 200 Noirs
8th out of 105 books — 17 voters
The Godfather by Mario PuzoGangster by Lorenzo CarcaterraThe Outsiders by S.E. HintonHeavy Duty People by Iain ParkeThe Sicilian by Mario Puzo
Best Gangster Novels
24th out of 53 books — 116 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 2,573)
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Paquita Maria Sanchez
Apr 20, 2014 Paquita Maria Sanchez rated it really liked it
Shelves: literature
Well, well, well, guess who's from Oklahoma?? Yes, Garth Brooks. Sigh, and Toby Keith. Naturally, Larry Clark. And, ya know, Jim Thompson. Was my point. I should've known that a man with such a rotten view of humanity came from the birthplace of so many rotten things, including my own rotten view of humanity.

No surprise, this book is rotten, though occasionally quite funny. It's the story of a "nice, young" man named Carl Bigelow who shows up in a small college town mid-semester in order to audi
Dan Schwent
Carl Bigelow comes to Peardale to go to college. Or that's his story, at any rate. In reality, he's Charles "Little" Bigger, a tuberculotic hitman, tasked with killing a witness before a case goes to trial. Too bad Bigelow gets entangled with the man's wife...

No two ways about it; there's a lot of weird stuff going on in this one. You've got a five-foot hitman with tuberculosis, an odd cleaning woman (view spoiler), and more
Jul 04, 2007 Dan rated it really liked it
Shelves: novels
Best last two pages ever.
Oct 22, 2011 brian rated it liked it
kind of the batshit version of cain, hammett, & chandler. sluggishly paced, schematic, w/o much true conflict -- flawed, for sure, but elevated by the vagina farm, all those damn goats, a femme fatale on crutches with a baby foot jutting out of her knee, and those transcendent last few pages. 3.7 rounded down b/c i'm mean.
Sep 21, 2010 Ian rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
This is one of my favorite pulp crime novels. Jim Thompson is a master at pedestrian dialogue in the first person structure (see also the Killer Inside Me and After Dark My Sweet), especially in this novel. The narrative is a strange journey into a surreal and maddening hell. It is strange to see some of the reviews cite the book as being boring, and typical noir fair, this book is anything but. From the description of Carl's journey through Grand Central Station where he actually hits a woman w ...more
Jayaprakash Satyamurthy
Jan 21, 2012 Jayaprakash Satyamurthy rated it really liked it
"Sure there's a hell..." I could hear him saying it now, now as I lay here in bed with her breath in my face, and her body squashed against me..."it is the drab desert where the sun shines neither warmth nor light and Habit force-feeds senile Desire. It is the place where mortal Want dwells with immortal Necessity, and the night becomes hideous with groans of one and the shrieks of the other. Yes, there is a hell, my boy, and you do not have to dig for it..."

Thompson plumbs the depths of mundane
Guy Portman
A shadowy crime boss known as ‘The Man’ sends contract killer Carl Bigelow to a small town, on a mission to kill a man, by the name of Jake Winroy. Jake is a key witness in a forthcoming court case. Carl, whose ruse is that he has come to study at a language school, finds lodgings with Jake’s family, and takes a part-time job at a bakery.

Matters start to go awry for the diminutive, doomed hit man, when he first arouses the suspicion of the town’s sheriff, and later goes on to have an affair with
Jan 11, 2009 Dave rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone who likes crime fiction
simply the greatest psycho noir novel written. Carl Bigelow, the self-delusional hit man, is a brilliant creation, as he's literally disintegrating throughout the novel. The ending is devastating. I love Jim Thompson's books, and this is my favorite.
Sep 20, 2010 David rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: noirboiled
From one perspective, Savage Night is fairly pedestrian noir. A mob assassin, Charlie Bigger, insinuates himself into a small town as part of his plan for killing a witness in an upcoming trial. This plan, of course, proves to be unnecessarily complicated, as the conventions of noir sometimes require. So far, nothing memorable. But Jim Thompson adds to the mix a startling grotesquerie that turns Savage Night into something altogether new in the noir vein. I will say nothing more about this, as S ...more
Lee Foust
Apr 02, 2015 Lee Foust rated it liked it
Despite a varied cast of wacky characters and a tense situation, this is, sadly, not Thompson's best. His books, even when works of startling nihilistic genius, always have a little something of the American cartoonish about them. This one had a bit too much of that and not quite enough of the existential angst that makes for his best character portraits, those pulp novels in which his losers, anti-heroes, alcoholics, and psychopaths wind down their lonely and alienated roads of fate to murder, ...more
Great writing marred by discursive and inexplicable subplots, problems with the overall story structure, much too slow a pace, and a murky ending that I found totally incomprehensible. Stylistically, it's great at times, but there are just too many logic problems and weird characterization glitches for me to really think it was a good book. However, there are a few passages that should be textbook examples of building suspense.
Corinna Bechko
Aug 27, 2014 Corinna Bechko rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
There's nobody who writes like Jim Thompson, and that's the truth. There are crazy things in this book, and if you keep reading, they keep getting crazier. Is it one long metaphor? Is it psychological horror? Is it a comment on the American dream? I'd hazard that the answer is yes, but it's also one hell of a read.
Feb 22, 2016 Philipp rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: noir, america
Not my favorite Thompson (that seat is still reserved for Pop. 1280), but not terrible, either, underwhelming. Some of the typical Thompson themes are here ("you can't win" etc.), but the atmosphere just doesn't come together - except in the wonderful finale.

P.S.: It's weird how the Goodreads summary focuses all on the "target" of the book, even though the large majority is from the point of view of the would-be assassin.

P.P.S.: There's a wonderfully typical noir scene. Charlie throws up in the
D.R. Haney
Feb 20, 2011 D.R. Haney rated it liked it
I struggled like crazy through the most of this book. Like so much pulp, it has a lot of filler, and it was just plain hard to follow, with so many of the characters st-st-stuttering. Also -- and not, alas, in a Céline sort of way -- there's...a lot of...ellipsis... D-do you...understand? D-do...y-you?

No, I didn't. The book felt obfuscated for no reason other than to pretend at complexity it didn't in fact possess.

A few days ago, near my wits' end, I asked a friend who'd read the book for his o
Oct 11, 2009 Brian rated it really liked it
Recommended to Brian by: Ben
Shelves: read-2009
It's like this... whenever I read one of these 'hard-boiled' crime type novels I can't help but read it in a James Cagney's voice... you see. This I believe was my first Jim Thompson novel and I really did enjoy it. Carl Bigelow aka Charlie 'Little' Bigger arrives in a small town to take care of business for 'The Man' and runs into a little problem with the dames. Having bad teeth, damaged eyes, wearing platform shoes and suffering from consumption doesn't seem to stop him from getting the dames ...more
John McDonald
Mar 24, 2009 John McDonald rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: readers interested in the intersection of experimental and popular writing
Shelves: fiction
I'm not sure what to say about my first encounter with Thompson that isn't summed up by crime writer Anthony Boucher's review of Savage Night: "written with vigor and bite, but sheering off from realism into a peculiar surrealist ending of sheer Guignol horror. Odd that a mass-consumption paperback should contain the most experimental writing I've seen in a suspense novel of late."

At times I'm reminded of no other writer so much as I am of William Burroughs (that great experimental repurposer of
M. Milner
Sep 22, 2011 M. Milner rated it liked it
There's an old joke I thought of while reading Savage Night: It's not paranoia if they're really out to get you.

Jim Thompson's novel is a blistering, short and wild read. It's occasionally trips over itself as it zigs and zags, is more than occasionally hard to follow, but it's a fun, disturbing ride. It's centered around Carl Bigelow, who may be a hitman sent to somebody set to rat out on the mob. Most of the book hinges around on identity: if Bigelow is really somebody else, who else is preten
Debra Daniels-zeller
Jul 01, 2014 Debra Daniels-zeller rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction, thriller, crime
The plot is a stranger comes to town. It's a creepy tale told by Carl Bigelow or Little Charlie Bigger, a hitman, mistaken for a student when he comes to town. This is pulp fiction at its best. Men calling Carl, "sonny," offering him menial work. But who is he going to kill? And why does he go to classes? Who is The Man? The Fruit Jar shows up and it's clear that Little Bigger, as they call him, has psychopathic tendencies. I couldn' guess the ending and it stayed with me for a long time. I love ...more
Gary Taylor
An interesting and pretty quick read.
The reader has little empathy for any of the characters,they all just seem to be there to move the story forward.Not a story that will stay with me,nor will it put me off from reading other works by Thompson.
Aug 02, 2009 Aaron rated it really liked it
Moments of brilliance and flashes of morbid insanity tempered by occasional lapses of turgid explorations of minutiae, all redeemed/ruined by one of the most absurdly surreal endings of any crime novel I could hope to imagine. There's a running theme of duality, mainly relating to the characters' true motives versus the lies they present; ultimately, Savage Night, both in plot and writing style, appears as a whole to be yet another demonstration of that same theme... it makes out to be a crime n ...more
Ken Kuhlken
Aug 26, 2014 Ken Kuhlken rated it really liked it
This is Thompson's strangest novel, at least of those I've read, and I've read most of them. Although it might not be for everyone, readers who appreciate the effort of a writer to delve into mysteries beyond the realm of the mundane and "realistic" ought to appreciate.
Tomas Boudreau
Jan 04, 2015 Tomas Boudreau rated it liked it
If this book were only its last six pages I would give it five stars and pray to whatever God or djinn Thomposon prayed to (hint: Beefeater).
Mar 30, 2015 Sarah rated it really liked it
I want to write my review before reading everyone elses' because I don't' know if people agree. Bigelow wasn't really a hit man,and a huge chunk of this only takes place in his head. He was bungling from the very beginning, and all the talk about the Man was so cliched and I didn't like the book at first because of that, but I should have had more faith in Jim Thompson as a writer.You see Bigelow reading about the hit man in the beginning you can go back and see all the clues. And I was wonderin ...more
Warren Stalley
Sep 12, 2015 Warren Stalley rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Under strict orders from The Man, downtrodden boyish assassin Carl Bigelow arrives in small town Peardale to kill court informer Jake Winroy, even going so far as to stay at the Winroy guest house. But the plan begins to go awry due to conflicts with the local townspeople – Jake’s scheming wife Fay, the crippled house maid Ruth, dubious baker Kendall and suspicious Sheriff Summers. Before long the job becomes even more complicated and confused as Carl gets tangled in a love triangle between the ...more
Nov 13, 2014 Lynn rated it it was amazing
Why isn't Jim Thompson worshipped by lovers of dark mystery? In this instance, he takes a mundane noir story and turns it into a fever dream. There were so many disturbing twists and images throughout the book (especially the end) that it's unfair to catalog them in a review. Too dark for everybody except Connie :-)
Lisa Ciarfella
Dec 13, 2015 Lisa Ciarfella rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
There's a reason they say thompson was a master at the noir and this book doesn't lie. His ending will have you flipping, and his characters are so terrifically down and out you just wanna jump in and fix things. But, resist and keep reading, caz. Thompson fixes things real good!

Just can't get enough of this guy!
Carla Remy
Aug 24, 2012 Carla Remy rated it really liked it
I hesitate between a 4 or a 5 star rating. It was not flawed. It was masterful. But did I love it? Hmm. It started out with a classic noir plot but the details were so interesting and the writing was so remarkable, then it veered into the totally unpredictable. Then it just kept veering.

Dec 10, 2007 Jake rated it it was amazing
Shelves: noir
Absolute classic of noir fiction. Thompson was at the top of his whiskey-soaked game here. A truly weird book, not at all what many people think of as "crime fiction." The last thirty pages or so are damn near surrealist.
Nov 25, 2015 Aramys rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Noche salvaje vuelve a darnos un Thompson oscuro y reflexivo, vuelve a ofrecernos esa narrativa seca y afilada tan característica, vuelve a darnos una trama sencilla pero contundente y cargada de mensaje. No deja de sorprenderme, aún ahora, después de leer unas cuantas novelas de Thompson, de lo que este hombre era capaz, la manera en que en aquella época y acuciado por su alcoholismo, su falta de dinero, su carácter imprevisible y su tozudez llegaba a crear, la lucidez de sus tramas, escondidas ...more
Sean Owen
Aug 06, 2014 Sean Owen rated it liked it
Jim Thompson was the master of noir. "Savage Night" has all the hallmarks of great Thompson: an unreliable narrator, dark humor, twists and turns and there isn't a decent person in the book. In addition to this there's a lot of strange stuff going on that you don't normally find in Thompson. There's the section about the road trip with the writer and his farm full of screaming goats. You could even call some of this non-standard Thompson stuff borderline psychedelic. It's not his best offering n ...more
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Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the GoodReads database with this name. See this thread for more information.

James Myers Thompson was a United States writer of novels, short stories and screenplays, largely in the hardboiled style of crime fiction.

Thompson wrote more than thirty novels, the majority of which were original paperback publications by pulp fiction houses, from the lat
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“I finished the ale, started to order a third one, and decided against it. I'd had enough. More than enough. Or I never would have. You take just so much from a bottle, and then you stop taking. From then on you're putting.” 5 likes
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