The Year of Jim Thompson begins with what according to GoodReads is his most popular book that I have yet to read: Wild Town. While it had some bumps, it was good and reminded me of how much I love Thompson’s work, especially after the two I read last year were too vulgar (King Blood) and too dull (Now and On Earth).
This is classic Thompson with a twist: a locked room mystery that hooks the prototypical Thompson sucker in a bind with the prototypical Thompson puppeteer (Lew Ford from The Killer Inside Me, who is, as far as I know, the only character Thompson recycled). What you have here is basically if Knives Out took place in 30s Texas, and was written by a drunk, potentially homicidal nihilist.
The mystery itself is interesting enough, I suppose although the twist, while fun, didn’t surprise me. But one doesn’t read Thompson books for the mysteries. One reads them for the bleakness, the manipulation and metaphysics filtered through the lens of a lower class southwestern American. Thompson has the “dimestore Dostoevsky” label for that reason.
While this isn’t the most existential of his novels, one can feel how he effectively brings the weight of his disturbing universe on poor Bugs McKenna, a man who trouble seems to find in part because he can’t help himself. I was waiting and waiting for poor Bugs to catch his break, and I won’t spoil whether or not he does, but Thompson’s ability to get into the heads of the men he writes and breaks down trying to find salvation in a merciless world is a skill I have yet to see another writer possess.
This isn’t top shelf Thompson: the middle is too messy and plot is not his thing. But it is a good endeavor by his lofty standards and a great start to the Year of Jim Thompson.