Some simple rules to live by when reading Jim Thompson:
1. A date with a Jim Thompson novel is a descent to the seventh circle of Hell, guaranteed.
2. In his books no one is inherently good, but most characters are inherently bad.
3. You never have to wonder for long if anyone has moral scruples.
4. The twists and turns of the plot are always worth the bumpy ride.
5. Lots of people are going to come to harm, and there will be little or no justification for any of it.
I admire Jim Thompson’s writing. He’s got that noir pulp edge and is completely unforgiving in his stories and characterization. In Pop. 1280 we see life in a small town in turn-of-the-century Texas through the eyes of its seemingly hapless sheriff, who’s sheriff because he doesn’t know how to be anything else. As the book progresses, we find out that he’s anything but what he seems… but neither is anyone else. It’s a good gritty dark depressing look at not one but a whole town filled with varying degrees of unsavory characters (please don’t forget Rule #2), none of whom ever become more pleasant, all of whom have ulterior motives. This might not sound like much of a glowing recommendation, but I read Jim Thompson for the writing, which is as I said pretty tight and gorgeous, and for the same reasons I might watch a horror film: that feeling of ugh, I’m so glad I’m not in this. Like the most spectacular train wrecks, his stories aren’t something easy to look away from. Go, enjoy in a voyeuristic sort of way. That’s what the best pulp novels are for.