Nicknamed America’s “Dimestore Dostoyevsky,” Jim Thompson (1906-1977) left an indelible, bloody fingerprint on the crime fiction landscape. In the 37 years since his death, Thompson’s work has slid from out-of-print obscurity to the forefront of the pulp—and literary—world, thanks in part to well-known film adaptations, such as 1990’s The Grifters (based on the 1963 novel). Now, Little, Brown’s crime imprint, Mulholland Books, is again bringing Thompson into the conversation with their trade paper reissues of the author’s oeuvre, 25 books in all.
Thompson's work is a “blueprint to suspense, his characters as desperate and charismatic as anyone has written since,” said Mulholland’s editorial director, Joshua Kendall. In the age of the e-book, and during a time that so many bricks-and-mortar bookstores have disappeared, Kendall underscores that “readers and writers, and especially booksellers, need to feel connected to one another—that we’re a community of book lovers. Mulholland is no different, where writers and readers meet to chat endlessly about books. The writer everyone comes back to? Jim Thompson.”
Ten of the reissues include new introductions from authors as varied as Stephen King, Chelsea Cain, Andre Dubus III and Daniel Woodrell. These ten include some of Thompson’s most recognizable work—such as The Killer Inside Me, The Grifters, and After Dark, My Sweet. The contemporary authors’ take on these noir anti-heroes brings a new level of richness to books that have a dedication to telling the most compelling story possible, conventions like “likable” characters be damned.
Particularly now, when debate continues to bubble about the benefits (or lack thereof) of fiction that contains characters one would want to befriend, Thompson’s work embodies the sentiment that characters are there in service to the story. And, for Thompson, the stories that deliver the best sucker punches are the ones where the writer allows the darkness to run rampant on the page, and through the veins of characters.
“Thompson is still considered by many one of our greatest writers,” said Kendall. “If great literature makes you feel alive to the world, crime fiction makes you feel engaged with it. It’s rare then that a writer manages both, but Thompson, at his best, did exactly that.”
“He was showing us a map of the damaged psyche,” wrote Doug Dorst, in his introduction to The Alcoholics. “Not offering us (or his characters or himself) any routes to cross it.” And it’s not just Thompson’s anti-heroes who bear the burden of the havoc they wreak. In his introduction to Pop. 1280, Daniel Woodrell reminds us that “this being Jim Thompson, the darkness begins quickly to gather, darkness that seeps from active wrongdoing and citizenry’s cowed acceptance of wrongdoing, and no writer has ever been more cunning and potent in his depiction of the commonplace nature of evil.”
Mulholland Books offers readers, both Thompson fanatics and those new to his work, myriad information about the author--his books, film adaptations and biographical details--on page of its website dedicated to the reissues. True Thompson devotees won’t want to miss the author’s screenplay collaborations with Stanley Kubrick for 1956’s The Killing and 1957’s Paths of Glory. In all his work, according to Andre Dubus III in his introduction to The Grifters, Thompson “reminds us where literature can and should go, into the dark heart of that universal and grasping human need for respect and comfort and acceptance, qualities of a first-class life for which his characters are willing to lie, cheat, steal, and even kill.”