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Pop. 1280 by Jim Thompson
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Apr 25, 2012

it was amazing

Set in the 1910's in a small county seat in rural Texas, this Jim Thompson novel explores his customary moral terrain, where crime, duplicity, and infidelity flourish, and the truth is so hard to come by you couldn't buy it with a truckload of money. The central character, a sheriff named Mitch, pretends to be not too bright while scheming against anyone who happens to be an inconvenience in his life. Beginning with the removal of the public outdoor privies outside his living quarters in the county courthouse and some dirty-tricks style electioneering to beat a favored opponent, his schemes turn more sinister, until there's a considerable body count.

Finally, it is stupidity, bigotry, and mob psychology on the part of his fellow citizens that protect him from detection. Altogether, it is a deeply cynical picture of human society and personal relationships that Thompson leaves us with. A neatly crafted book, with plenty of steamy scenes, this one is not for the squeamish. A steady diet of this stuff could leave a reader like Mitch at the end, bewildered by the moral ambiguity of a fiercely unethical world. Readers will enjoy a faithful rendering of this novel in the film "Clean Slate" by French filmmaker Bernard Tavernier, who set it in 1930's Senegal with the superb actor Phillipe Noiret in the lead role.
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