Monday, July 13, 2015

Nothing More Than Murder (Jim Thompson, 1949)

This one isn't interested much into the actual act of crime or the prior plotting leading to it. Which is just as well since the bad guys' plan is pretty pathetic. Good old double indemnity insurance scam with a bit of a (silly) twist. Wife catches our hero Joe cheating and then the trio together decides to resolve this unfortunate situation by faking her death and collecting the insurance money to pay her off so Joe and Carol can live and fuck happily ever after. And the silly twist? They manage to get the "replacement" body by simply placing an advert in a local newspaper seeking for a woman that physically resembles Elizabeth (she would die in fire burnt beyond the recognition so her body/face isn't really important).

With such an amateurish (stupid?) plan it is of course only a question of when and not if they will get caught. It's also a question of who will blow up the whole setup since Joe soon finds himself blackmailed by a couple of local scumbags, investigated by the insurance company PI while his accomplice/lover gets more and more distrustful (and unpredictable). And if all that weren't bad enough, he's also in the middle of a fight against the (very hostile) takeover of his movie theater.

And this is where novel's brilliance comes in. Joe is a bit like Sheriff Nick Corey from Pop. 1280 - a manipulator who schemes all the time in order to get his way out of the troubles. So instead of a classical whodunnit, the suspense here is about guessing how he'll manage to untangle the messy web he got himself caught in. And although he's a bit of an asshole (but then again, the whole cast consists of assholes), he's still likeable and even honest in his own way so I must admit I was kind of cheering for him.

Cool stuff and even though this is very early Thompson (his first "proper" crime genre novel), it is put together masterfully. Snappy dialogues, superb characterization of the main protagonist (I would dare say that others are neglected intentionally), great storytelling with some flashbacks thrown in and just enough psychological stuff to keep it interesting even though the plotting is not very strong. It simply works, everything clicks as it should.

And cannot finish this writing without mentioning the small town mentality and seedy movie theaters and film distribution industry milieu into which the story is placed. Amusing stuff that provides a good atmosphere and gives a story realistic and authentic tone. Too bad that "Glossary of exhibitor terms" is at the end and not at the beginning of the book Was a bit confused at first when coming upon terms like "dark" (not in operation; a dark house), "product" (pictures) and "paper" (advertising matter). But it wasn't too distracting and it eventually got cool once I got this slang.

Maybe a bit too light and naive for my taste  (I saw that ending twist coming way too soon) but it didn't really matter. Enjoyed it a lot.

4.5/5

Facts:

Hero
According to a local newspaper: "Joseph J. Wilmot, local theater magnate"

Location
Imaginary small-town of Stoneville. At least I think it doesn't exist since I was unable to find one on Google maps that would be "an hour driving from the City" or "thirty miles from Wheat City"

Body count
2, possibly another one since I'm not sure how to interpret "I caught him right in the act of slugging Jimmie Nedry"

Dames
I'd thought she looked awkward  and top-heavy, and, hell, I could see now that she didn't at all. Her breasts weren't too big. Jesus, her breasts!
She looked cute-mad and funny-sweet. She looked liked she'd started somewhere and been mussed up along the way.
She was a honey. She was sugar and pie. She was a bitch. [Fatale]

Blackouts
The whiskey never reached my mouth. I couldn't get it that high. It trickled out on my shirt front, and then the bottle dropped from my hand to the floor. And I followed it.
 
Title: 
Cool sounding. It probably refers to a trivial and over simplistic plan that our murderous trio puts together

Edition: Black Lizard 1985

Cover
Nice, old school type of illustration. Made by the guy named Kirwan who has apparently created covers for all of the Black Lizard's classics reissues. And they all look great!

Notable cover blurbs: 
"Jim Thompson is the best suspense writer going, bar none."
- New York Times

Not that I disagree but still it seems strange that they would regard him as "writer going" seven years after his death.

Cool lines:  
She smiled, kind of like an elevator boy smiles when you ask him if he has lots of ups and downs.

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