Fri 27 May 2011
by Bill Crider
JIM THOMPSON – Savage Night. Lion #155, paperback original, 1953. Reprinted several times, including Black Lizard Books, softcover, 1985, 1991.
Although Savage Night has never attained the cult status of Jim Thompson’s The Killer Inside Me, it is an equally unnerving book, one that still has the power to shock despite the more than thirty years that have elapsed since its original publication.
Carl (“Little”) Bigger (a.k.a. Carl Bigelow), a tubercular professional killer who is all of five feet tall, is sent to murder a key witness in an upcoming trial.
His plan is to do so by enlisting the help of his victim’s wife, but he hasn’t counted on the complications that arise, including the distrust of the local sheriff and his own feelings for Ruth, the deformed girl who works for his victim.
Like Lou Ford in The Killer Inside Me, Bigger is oddly sympathetic. He is a cold-blooded killer, but he is at the same time a human being. He coldly seduces the wife, but his affair with Ruth is quite different. He has decent impulses, and even acts on them. The book has a number of unexpected twists in the plot, but what really interests the reader are Bigger and his inner conflicts.
The climax comes in a crescendo of violence and madness unsurpassed in the work of any other writer of paperback fiction, and perhaps even in Thompson’s other work.
The chapters become shorter as the madness and violence grow, with the last six chapters occupying only three pages of text. The final chapter is one sentence long, but it is as devastating as any conclusion you are ever likely to read.
Thompson wrote several other powerfully unique novels that should not be missed, including A Hell of a Woman (1954), Wild Town (1957; in which Lou Ford has a cameo appearance), The Getaway (1959), Pop. 1280 (1964), and Texas by the Tail (1965).
Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007. Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.