Oklahoma native Jim Thompson (1906-1977) began authoring his brand of violent, hardboiled crime-fiction in the late 1940s. His 1952 novel, “The Killer Inside Me”, is regarded as a mid-century genre classic. Often the author's work was written in a fast-paced, unbridled style rich with anti-heroes, sociopaths and violent criminals who serve as story protagonists. In his efforts to push the boundaries of the average paperback, Thompson's craftsmanship is widely respected by literary critics yet is often criticized for his abstract delivery. Case in point is the 1953 novel “Recoil” originally published by Lion Books.
The story's protagonist, Patrick Cosgrove, is first introduced to readers on his last day of a fifteen year prison sentence at Sandstone State Reformatory. In flashback sequences, it's explained that Patrick had a wild bank robbing accident while deer hunting (gives new meaning to chasing bucks). As a product of the 1950s, the law of that era specifically required someone to mentor or accept the responsibility of taking a reformed prisoner under their wing. Without it, the prisoner stays confined. Patrick doesn't have any friends or family, so he wrote to hundreds of companies asking for employment. After months of silence, Dr. Luther, a psychologist and political lobbyist, responds to Patrick's letter in the form of a job proposal. After his release, Patrick goes to work for Dr. Luther and that's where things become unusual.
Unconditionally, Luther provides free room, food and a car to Patrick. Additionally, he pays him $250/month to be a town surveyor...but provides no real instruction. Confused, Patrick drives around all day and attempts to avoid the seedy side of town. Later, Luther's sexy and flamboyant wife throws herself at Patrick. Instead of restricting the behavior, Luther encourages it! It's as if Thompson just purposefully defies the genre's traditions despite the overall absurdity of the situation. When Patrick hires a private investigator to learn more about Luther and Lila, smoking guns, car chases and corpses begin populating Thompson's otherwise flat, one-dimensional prose.
I wasn't sure what to make of “Recoil”. My first impression was to fling the book across the room, but then realized I had hardwood floors and the Kindle version. Jim Thompson proves that everyone should do a short, preliminary search to obtain a book's general public reception. “Recoil” is mostly panned by readers, and I'm only contributing to that consensus. Like an old, rusty Volkswagen, I start and stop repeatedly when I venture into this author's lane. Artistically, there's nothing to celebrate in this paperback. It is filled with awkward scenes that not only fail to entertain, but are just confusing to the reader. Yet somehow I stuck around like some interstate rubbernecker just wanting carnage satisfaction.
In closing, here's a scene summary that is indicative of everything wrong here:
Patrick finds a dead body in an office building late at night. Fearing that he himself will be a suspect in the murder, he attacks the night guard and attempts to stuff the corpse in the backseat of his car.
It's this kind of stuff that brings “Recoil” ridiculously close to the Paperback Warrior Hall of Shame. Steer clear of this book at all costs.
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