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Jim Thompson (writer)
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Jim Thompson (writer)

Jim Thompson (1906-1977) was an American writer of short stories, screenplays and novels of the pulp fiction kind.

Thompson wrote over thirty novels, half of them between the late 1940s and mid 1950s, his most prolific period. Not recognized during his lifetime, Thompson's stature grew in the 1980s, stemming from the republication of his novels in the Black Lizard series of rediscovered crime fiction. He was an admirer of Fyodor Dostoevsky and was nicknamed "Dimestore Dostoevsky" by writer Geoffrey O'Brien.

An unsuccessful writer of literary fiction, Thompson finally gravitated towards the less prestigious but more commercial crime fiction genre. After the publication of his first hard boiled novel, Nothing More Than Murder, he soon became one of the masters of the second generation of noir writers, as were named the writers that followed Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler and James M. Cain. Thompson's books are populated by grifters, losers and psychopaths, some on the fringes of society, some in the very heart of it. His nihilistic worldview was best served by first person narratives, revealing an almost frighteningly deep understanding of the workings of warped minds. It culminated in a few of his numerous masterpieces - The Killer Inside Me, Savage Night, A Hell of a Woman, Pop. 1280. Thompson turned pulp into literature, into art. Some of his work features unreliable narrators and experiments with surrealism.

In 1955 Thompson moved to Hollywood and was commissioned by Stanley Kubrick to write the screenplay for his first studio-financed picture, The Killing. Although Thompson wrote the majority of the script, Kubrick insisted on keeping most of the credit to himself, leaving Thompson with a vague "additional dialogue" credit. The two collaborated again on Paths of Glory (which was also mostly written by Thompson, again with little credit), then parted ways. Thompson remained in California for the rest of his life, drifting away from writing his increasingly unpopular novels and eventually stooping to write television programs and novelizations, anything to pay the bills.

In the early and mid 1970s Thompson's novels The Getaway and The Killer Inside Me were adapted to the big screen, both bowdlerized to fit genre conventions of the time. Thompson himself was initially hired to adapt The Getaway, but was subsequently fired by star Steve McQueen who deemed his style too depressing. It wasn't until 1989-1990, long after Thompson's demise that Hollywood resumed interest in his writing, producing no less than three novels during that period - Kill-Off, After Dark, My Sweet and The Grifters, which garnered four Academy Award nominations.

Thompson died after a series of strokes at age 71, from a combination of alcoholism and self-inflicted starvation. At the time of his death none of his novels were in print in his home country.

Major works

External links