Pop. 1280 by Jim Thompson
My rating: 1 of 5 stars
"I figure sometimes that maybe that's why we don't make as much progress as other parts of the nation. People lose so much time from their jobs in lynching other people, and they spend so much money on rope and kerosene and getting likkered-up in advance and other essentials, that there ain't an awful lot of money or man-hours left for practical purposes."
Since I did not rate Jim Thompson's
highly, I have been curious about another well-known work by the author, purportedly the master of early hardboiled crime fiction. Alas I like his Pop. 1280 (1964) even less. Much less, in fact.
Nick Corey is the sheriff of Potts County (somewhere in the south of the U.S.), which has a population of 1280. The title of the novel is accurate only at its beginning: the population size is a bit smaller at the end because "somethin' done went and happened to" several people in the meantime. While Nick has only four things on his mind - retaining his job as the election nears, having sex, sleeping, and eating - he has difficulty to focus on his priorities: people do not conform to his wishes, some even need killing.
The author is trying to shock us by showing that people kill other people for simple convenience and then they go to church to praise the Lord loudly and beautifully. Well, I had been shocked before and it is not news to me that the human race would place high in the Worst Scum of the Universe contest.
The author confuses the narrator's voice with his own. While the plot is narrated by Sheriff Corey, it is often the author speaking, as in the wickedly funny fragment quoted in the epigraph. The overall hilarity of this work about utter stupidity and vileness of people does not raise it, in my view, to the two-star level. Well, I should listen to the author's advice and stop wasting time vilifying him. Back to work.
Only the nauseatingly cruel and brutal scene of preparing to execute Uncle John will stay with me.
One and a half stars.
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