This is going to be pretty brief because I read this novel and then went on a two-week vacation, so it’s not exactly fresh in my mind. Jim Thompson is an acknowledged master of noir fiction, and this novel, filmed in 1990 starring John Cusack and Anjelica Huston, is perhaps his best known.
The book centers on Roy Dillon, a young con artist who works the short grifts for quick money but has nevertheless built up quite a stash doing so. However, a con gone wrong lands him at death’s door and brings his still young mother Lily back into his life. Lily has her own nefarious underpinnings, working at racetracks placing bets for an underworld figure named Bobo Justus. When a past mistake catches up to her, Lily’s reaction will her consequences for her, her son, and Roy’s girlfriend Moira, a con artist herself.
Written in 1964, The Grifters goes places that would still be shocking in a novel published today. Though the plot sags and meanders through the vast middle, it’s dark, violent ending will stay with you long afterwards. This is a noir with a black heart.