Thursday, October 23, 2008

Book Review: A Hell of a Woman

I’m a huge Jim Thompson fan. He’s a 1950’s noir novelist. Some of his titles might be familiar as they have been made into movies. The Grifters, After Dark My Sweet, and The Getaway. (And if you are going to see the Getaway, do get the 1972 Sam Peckinpaw version, with Steve McQueen, not the 1994 remake with Baldwin and Basinger. )
As always, the books are better than the movies. However, I saw the movies first. I loved The Grifters when it came out. It introduces you to the world of con-artists, hustlers and racketeers. Years later I was in a book store in London and I noticed The Griftersin the mystery section, by a one Jim Thompson. Reading the back, I knew it was the same one as the movie, and was written in the 1950’s. I found out later that Jim Thompson is well known and respected in Europe. More so than in North America. They have a taste for the American noir. Well, so do I.

I’ve worked my way through most of his titles still available over the years. I would pick them up here and there. One never wants to overdose on a good thing.

Getting near the bottom of the list, I picked up A Hell of a Womanrecently. I’m glad I was able to read a fresh one.

Frank “Dolly” Dillon is a door to door salesman for the Pay- E- Zee Stores. He sells overpriced household items to people with poor credit. The boss insists he chases down clients who are behind on payments. It was a bleak job:

You made good money, a couple of hundred a week sometimes. But when you averaged it up, the good weeks with the bad, it wasn’t so good. Fifty or sixty a week, well maybe seventy. More than you could make, probably, behind a gas pump or a soda fountain. But you had to knock yourself out to do it, and you were just standing still. You were still there at the starting place. And you weren’t a kid anymore.

What a gut-wrenching self revelation. Dolly’s marriage has gone sour. His wife wants to leave him, but is too lazy to do so. Last night’s dinner remains on the kitchen table crawling with cockroaches. He drinks through lunches. He’s been fudging his accounts records and is skimming from the company. Hell, isn’t he entitled? Dolly’s been dealt bum cards from the deck his whole life.

There’s potential for a scam, it means killing somebody but it's for $200,000 and with nothing left to live for it, he has to consider taking chance.

If you love old school noir, I highly recommend this book. There are excellent twists and turns and wonderful language. I often feel like I was born in the wrong era. I want to be one of those 40’s and 50’s guys with a bottle in the desk, worrying about dice and dames.

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