It would appear at the start of this book that Nick Corey, the sheriff of the town of Pottsville, is to be the hero of the story. He seems like a gentle, somewhat simple man who believes that inaction is always the most prudent course of action. He feels it "just wouldn't seem right" to have to arrest people, so generally, he doesn't. But slowly it began to dawn on me that this is a Jim Thompson book and there simply aren't heroes in his books.
It turns out that Nick Corey is quite similar to another Jim Thompson character, Lou Ford from The Killer Inside Me. In fact, it's worthwhile reading both books to compare these two characters. They are so different, yet incredibly similar.
The chilling thing about this book lies in how deeply convinced everyone is that Nick is a simpleton who is a harmless, lazy man. But the truth is apparent to the reader how rat-cunning he actually is. The desire to be re-elected to his post as sheriff drives his day-to-day activity and everyone underestimates just how far he'll go to ensure his re-election, myself included.
Apart from the sinister actions of Nick Corey, the story is actually quite amusing, told in the first person in a light and witty tone of voice. Nick manages to put an amusing spin on all aspects of his day-to-day life, most especially the parts in which he's doing absolutely nothing at all.
This is a typical Jim Thompson story. There are no heroes, as a matter of fact; there are few, if any, likable characters in the book. The main character narrates in a style that feels as though he's saying: here are the facts, make of them what you will. It's a chiller rather than a mystery and events took me by surprise more than once.