Critically acclaimed crime novels of the 1950s include Pick-Up, The Killer Inside Me, Down There, The Real Cool Killers, and The Talented Mr. Ripley, in this second in a two-volume set."
Patricia Highsmith's The Talented Mr. Ripley is the source for René Clément's bristling Purple Noon, a movie that features Alain Delon's quintessential performance. David Goodis's Down There inspired François Truffaut's neo-noir masterpiece Shoot the Piano Player. Jim Thompson, the brilliant author who scripted The Killing and Paths of Glory for Stanley Kubrick, wrote several novels that have been turned into movies, including The Grifters and The Getaway. He is represented here by one of his most uncompromising works, The Killer Inside Me, which was filmed by Burt Kennedy in 1976. Charles Willeford's Pick-Up and Chester Himes's The Real Cool Killers have not yet been made into movies, but the blistering prose and nihilistic worlds of these authors, and of all the writers represented in this volume, is astonishingly cinematic. This lovely hardcover edition contains biographical, textual, and explanatory notes.
The first story is from the demented mind of Jim Thompson. This story, called The Killer Inside Me, is much better than The Grifters, a book by Thompson that I read some time ago. The Grifters seemed to be pretty one-dimensional with respect to its characters. This story is the exact opposite. A deputy sheriff in a Texas city has a terrible secret. He plays dumb on the outside, but inside he is a cunning sociopath. A long simmering resentment leads to a terrible revenge. Bodies quickly stack up as a result. This seems to be the story that Thompson is best known for and it's no surprise why. This is a dark, twisted tale with a grim ending.
Patricia Highsmith wrote a whole series of stories concerning Tom Ripley. The one included here is The Talented Mr. Ripley, probably better known due to the recent film with Matt Damon. This tale isn't as noir as I would have liked, but it still has enough twists and turns to keep anybody in suspense. Ripley is a low class conniver who ingratiates himself into a wealthy family who wants him to go to Italy and bring back their son. Ripley sees the potential for bucks and meets up with the kid and his lady friend. Of course, things take a turn for the worse and the bodies start stacking up. This story was probably my least favorite out of the entire collection.
The next story, Pick-Up, by Charles Willeford, is a depressing tale about two alcoholics who go bump in the night. The story follows the adventures of this alcoholic couple as they attempt suicide, check themselves into a mental hospital, and drink themselves into a stupor. After the female half of the couple dies in another suicide pact, the story switches to a prison tale. The end is somewhat of a twist, but really doesn't impact the story that much, in my opinion. Again, not really noir as noir can be, but still a fine story that can stand by itself.
Down There, by David Goodis, is a wild ride of a tale. Full of suspense and death, this is a great story that deserves to be included here. A family of ne'er-do-wells drags their talented piano-playing brother into their personal problems. The background information on Eddie, the piano player, is phenomenal. The tragedy that has struck him once is bound to repeat itself again. This story has great bit characters that really liven up the background.
The final story, by Chester Himes, is The Real Cool Killers. This is noir on acid: pornographic violence, massive doses of grim reality, and characters you're glad to see get killed. The story is set in Harlem and involves two tough cops named Grave Digger Jones and Coffin Ed Johnson. Someone kills a white guy in Harlem and the cops try and track them down. This story contains one of the funniest descriptions of a person falling off a balcony that I've ever read (and I've read a few, disturbingly enough). The writing has enough similes and metaphors to give Raymond Chandler an apoplectic fit. A cool story that certainly deserves a place in this book.
If you like noir, read these two LOA novels. They are long (together they're almost 2000 pages) but it is definitely worth the effort. These kinds of stories are just a great way to while away some free time and relieve stress.
Individually, I would rate the stories in pretty much the order they appear in the book. "The Killer Inside Me" is the most powerful, in my opinion, and is a great indroduction to Jim Thompson if you haven't read his work previously. "The Talented Mr. Ripley" is also excellent, and is a must read for any fan of crime fiction. What I found more interesting was the contrast between the protagonists in the first two novels. Both are cold-hearted killers, but you couldn't find two more different voices. Its a tribute to both Mr. Thompson and Ms. Highsmith that you actually root for these people to get away with their crimes.
The other three novels are good, but they pale in comparison to the first two. "Pick-up" is a good study in a relationship between two alcoholics who know they are alcoholics and are okay with it. It takes awhile for the crime to be committed, but its an interesting journey. I didn't care for the twist ending, but that's just me. "Down There" was interesting to read, if only because it was the basis for a great movie. "The Real Cool Killers" was the only story of the five that I had trouble getting through. I think that was because I didn't really care (or even really believe) that A) a group of street punks would dress in the manner they were described in, or that B) a pair of street detectives would be as violent, feared, and given such free reign as the ones in this novel.
All in all, a good book to add to your collection, if only for the one-two punch of Thompson and Highsmith (by the way, that would be a great name for a law firm).