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on 16 July 1998
Jim Thompson hits new heights with this fabulous character study of three outcast grifters. Less action and more introspection than you would usually expect from Thompson. However, this allows him to exhibit his writing skills to the fullest with beautiful imagery and poetic philosophical expositions. If anyone tries to tell you that hard-boiled fiction is not literature, make them read this book. Plus, the surprise ending will leave you speechless for days.
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on 29 December 2003
"Noir" is an over-used cliche now - every crime writer since James Ellroy in the last 15 years likes to be called a "noir" writer, but few ever really are, or were. Jim Thompson WAS. This is perhaps one of the top 5 crime novels ever written, there are no boring detectives with drab, shaky personal lives within these pages: instead the story is told entirely from the criminal's point of view. And no, he's not a serial killer either, he is a professional grifter (conman). I won't spoil the plot, except to say that this is a brilliant portrait of the loneliness of the true criminal - no ties, no friends, just the constant staying-ahead of the law, and the accumulation of money for the distant day when the criminal plans to quit "the life". It ends with a shocking, gripping twist in the tale - true noir.
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on 23 January 2014
This being a Jim Thompson novel, there is a depth to the writing and yet a vapidity in the plotting that are at loggerheads throughout. Ostensibly the story of wrong-side-of-the-tracks charmer Roy Dillon and his career at a short con artist, anyone expecting the zany antics of Hustle is setting themselves up for a disappointment. This is Jim Thompson - a man whose catalogue charts a pretty sombre and at times unpleasantly bleak picture of a specific slice of humanity that is as garish and faintly surrealistic as it is unvarnished and nail-you-to-your-chair compelling.

But, as with pretty much every Thompson I've read, it falls down on the actual plot: the four main characters seem to drift in and out of each other's lives without particular direction or intent, yet evoking such intense reactions (both explicit and restrained) as to imply some deeper, darker purpose to it all. Then, just as the various strands seem to be coming together - the Mob, the Big Life Decision, the Chance of Something Better - the book ends. Quite weirdly. It's far from the first time Thompson has done this (Pop. 1280 would be a masterpiece for the ages if it didn't just screech suddenly to a halt), and I didn't exactly expect some jaunty song and dance number to round everything out, but it feels a bit like waiting to catch a train and then being told that the place you're going to doesn't actually exist.

By god, though, the man can write, and he's pretty much the only author of hardboiled American fiction whose work I can take tolerate - Chandler always seemed to be trying too hard and Hammett not hard enough, Ross MacDonald took his time saying very little and Spillane often said plenty of things we could've done without...I could probably go on. The view may not be pretty, but it's described with a steel-hearted melancholia that you feel in your guts throughout and will remember for a long time afterwards. Not easy reading, then, but all the more essential because of it.
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on 20 June 2008
This is first rate entertainment. The story is gripping and its telling is harsh and compelling, in the best traditions of noir. The plot moves along quickly and it is the kind of book that is enjoyed quickly as you have to know where it's going.

One of the best thrillers I've ever read.
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on 22 July 2010
A short read but a good one. Gets straight into the story with very little preamble or pretence, well written and well read.
Haven't seen the film so I couldn't compare it, but I did envisage Anjelica Houston in the mothers role.
Would definately recommend.
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Jim's had high hopes for reality at one particular time but these were dashed in the 1930's. His life ebbed away in back breaking jobs as he sacrificed himself for his family.

Instead he became an amateur psychologist chasing the ghouls of the dispossesed,a lay criminologist of the soul and he did it better than the professionals. Way before Spitz and Bowlby became national purveyors of attachment theory, Jim portrayed bleak early childhood lives creating bitter tainted revengeful adults. It was such a simple observation but Jim did it first.

This book focuses on the mother-son relationship, ladled with unrequited incestual allure. Mother is a good stunning looker, only half a generation from an unwanted son, who is also a handome puller. He has the choice of Madonna or the Whore, the grift or the straight job dangled enticingly in front of him, constant excitement or an end to loneliness. This is the moral of the tale, but then it twists and jack knives. Read the book but never let your guard down, because when you do, the big chill is going to squeeze your neck.

Mother and son play the margins, making a killing by bleaching suckers, pulling them away from their payrolls. In a world where everyone wants to win easy money, these con artists thrive on that gullibility...easy money, the trusting soul. This is the grift. Woven in between are the subthemes of racism, the persecution of the Jews, the inability of the Orthodox to melt into the pot, the pressures placed upon young mothers and the hatreds festering in corrupted childhoods.

This books a psycho tour de force confronting the big themes in pulp before they made the grade in academia. Talking to the kids who inhabit the gangs and the violence, they understand Jim's world more than any social worker, youth worker, therapist, academic or social policy maker. This realism is never communicated they know because the socially deluded would never believe they were part of the problem.

The back breaking stress inducing fingers on the ledge, day to day living, battle for survival is brought to you directly via this print job.

Jim observed and interacted in a world that had economically and psychologically collapsed around him. One strategy he used personally was to upend a whisky bottle to cope. Meanwhile the magnitude of suffering rolled around inside the shuttered worlds. Whilst many thumped the dry barren ground amongst the tinder dry tumbleweed with their battered heads, others just hit their wives and children.

Jim's second strategy was to write about this world. All writing courses emphasise write about what you know. Jim just had that much more empathy and understanding than the queue of Johns filing to paint the scenery for another Hollywood Musical.

His books are carefully nuanced portrayals of pathological personalities. People without empathy peruse his pages as he pictures them battling with their inner souls. Somewhere nice people exist, just like the nurse sterilised at Dachau by the Nazi's, someone who works to heal rather than project her hatred. This is the one piece of light in a very dark tunnel within the book. This was the way out.

If you want to learn about the human condition then the journey can begin here.
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on 24 January 2016
I read five of Thompson's novels back to back - so should you - so I guess I'm biased.
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on 2 August 2014
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on 10 July 1999
For some reason, The Grifters is not as interesting to me as it is a lot of people. I can't really put my finger on it, but the novel is quite boring, which is unusual for Thompson. It is also littered with repulsive characters. Of course, Thompson's books feature psychopaths, but the nuts are uniformly interesting, funny, and, ironically, nice. In The Grifters, there are no such characters.
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