Sunday, May 11, 2014

Wild Town (1957)

If anyone is looking for a generic Jim Thompson novel, you could do worse than Wild Town. It's less than inspired but packed with familiar Thompson notes, including a return appearance by the Texas deputy Lou Ford, star of The Killer Inside Me. Unfortunately, Ford has become less psychopathic ham and more Lex Luthor crossbred with Professor Moriarty, a sort of utility super villain who knows all, sees all, etc., which makes him a good deal less interesting. Once again the scene is a big hotel, and an isolated Texas boom town, and once again the plot is distractingly intricate. Babes abound, most of them swell-looking, and our hero, Bugs McKenna, is a typical Thompson outsider antihero, gruff, even corrupted, but with a heart of gold, kind of. For no reason I can discern, Lou Ford's girlfriend Amy Standish—also from The Killer Inside Me—gets a big role too. I get the sense from these mid-'50s novels that someone was seriously counseling Thompson to focus on plot because that is ultimately all they are, to the detriment of Thompson's rampaging, demented energy, which feels in Wild Town as if it is absolutely suffocating. At least Wild Town helps me see better how great The Killer Inside Me is by comparison. In fact, the two side by side really throws the situation in perspective. Checking Thompson's biography, I find Wild Town marks the end of a sustained burst of productivity, which maybe helps explain why the last few have felt a little exhausted. Jim Thompson was not done here—arguably his best work was still ahead of him, which we will be getting to presently. As for Wild Town, it's only for the hardest of hardcore fans, I would say. I'm not touching on all Thompson's work in this little series, but had meant to get to his best. Maybe I cast my net just a little wide. Wild Town is approximately 98% recycled devices, with diminishing vitality. No one needs to see Lou Ford like this. Feel free to skip.

In case it's not at the library.

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