Sunday, April 20, 2003

After Dark, My Sweet by Jim Thompson

If you put me on the spot and told me to name my favorite noir writer, I’d have to go with Cornell Woolrich. But Big Jim Thompson would be in the running, no doubt about it. He wrote over thirty novels and at least a dozen of them are required reading for aficionados of the genre. After Dark, My Sweet was published in 1955 and deals with the exploits of William “Kid” Collins, a mentally disturbed ex-boxer on the skids, who ends up being ensnared in a nasty kidnapping scheme with an acid-tongued lush by the name of Fay and a seedy ex-cop named Garret Stoker a.k.a. Uncle Bud. Collins isn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer but he isn’t stupid either. Although he did take one too many headblows during his time in the ring and he harbors a dangerously deep weakness for a pretty woman, Collins is a wise and shrewd judge of character. Most people, upon first meeting the Kid, size him up as a major league sap. A Big Zero; nice guy, but dumb. But simmering underneath the Kid’s smooth amiable veneer is a psychopath waiting to pounce. To underestimate him is to find yourself down for the count. Big time.

After Dark, My Sweet is one of Thompson’s tightest, most controlled excursions into the dark. Although the first-person narrative isn’t as twisted or unbridled as his classic The Killer Inside Me, Thompson nevertheless unveils a claustrophobic, occasionally hallucinatory novel about the desperate seekers, the ambitious outsiders living in the shadows of Eisenhower’s America. Whether they have to kidnap, steal or kill the American Dream, Collins and his cohorts are bent on claiming it for their own. Beware.

Director James Foley (At Close Range, Glengarry Glen Ross) adapted the novel for the screen in 1990 starring Jason Patric, Rachel Ward and Bruce Dern. I'll comment on the film at a later date.

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