Sandy's Reviews > The Killer Inside Me

The Killer Inside Me by Jim Thompson
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's review
Aug 18, 2011

it was amazing
Read in December, 2007

In Jim Thompson's 1952 classic of crime noir, "The Killer Inside Me," we are introduced to a very unusual law enforcement officer. He is Lou Ford, deputy of (the fictitious) Central City, Texas, a good-looking, seemingly wholesome 29-year-old who comes off to his peers as something of an oafish bumpkin, due to his fondness of using hackneyed proverbs ("Haste makes waste, in my opinion. I like to look before I leap.") and amiable, slow-thinking ways. But, as Deputy Lou reveals in his narrative, there is a lot more going on under the sham hayseed surface, and this lawman turns out to be a bona fide exemplar of dementia praecox. Lou isn't perturbed in the least when he has to beat up the occasional whore, burn a panhandler with his cigar, or kill four or five townspeople; he's got perfectly sound and rational reasons for everything he does, and therein lies the particular success of Thompson's novel. Fifty-five years old now, how this book must have shocked its readers back when, with its oh-so casual violence and offhand sex. Though telegraphed well in advance--Lou gives his homicides LOADS of premeditation--the actual murders may still be pretty shocking to the modern reader, as most of them are performed quite brutally by Lou, a character who really is "built Ford tough." Lou is not an obvious nutjob--unlike, say, another fictitious Texan killer, Leatherface--but rather one who fits perfectly well into society, has a good reputation in town and a hotty fiancee who is desired by most of his fellows. He demonstrates his cunning and mental prowess time and again, works on calculus problems for relaxation, reads scientific textbooks in foreign languages. He can be a very ingratiating narrator, and even shows flashes of real wit and humor; for example, he worries that his fiancee Amy will want to discuss the size of the douche bag she brings on her honeymoon, and when a list of the many names of his murder victims is read to him, he innocently adds "President McKinley?" His smarts and his humor make us like Lou up to a point, and thus we are even more appalled when he repeatedly falls victim to what he calls "the sickness." Writing in Jones & Newman's excellent overview volume "Horror: Another 100 Best Books," author Nancy A. Collins (who chose "The Killer Inside Me" for inclusion) tells us that "As a writer, [she stands] in awe of how Thompson refuses to succumb to the temptation of allowing his viewpoint character to soften or become a 'nice guy,'" and I could not agree more. Every time we begin to think that Lou might have some saving graces, boom, there he goes again! If I may quote another creative artist, Stanley Kubrick, this book is "probably the most chilling and believable first-person story of a criminally warped mind I have ever encountered." Filled with wonderfully drawn secondary characters, evoking a real sense of time and place, and even reserving a genuine surprise for its final page, "The Killer Inside Me" is a gripping entertainment that certainly deserves its reputation. I have not seen the 1976 film adaptation starring Stacey Keach as Lou (actually, I would have thought that poor casting--I picture Lou as more of a Ray Liotta or Robert Patrick type; the cover of this Quill Mysterious Classic is very apropos--although Keach is supposedly excellent in the role), but can't imagine it giving us a sharper look into the mind of a schizophrenic killer. The novel really lets us get under Lou Ford's skin, and shows us very clearly that this is a very sick and disturbing place to be....
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02/04 marked as: read

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