Jim Thompson (1906-1977) authored over thirty novels from the 1940s through the 1950s. Considered a legendary hardboiled crime writer, his most notable works often employ an abstract style of storytelling. His violent, often disturbing novels are typically devoid of any admirable, noble protagonists for readers to support or cheer. Instead, crime-fiction traditionalism is replaced with characters that typically range from the vile deviant to the casual wrongdoer. Nothing underscores these tropes more than The Kill-Off, Thompson's 1957 Lion Books release. The novel was adapted into film in 1990 and reprinted by Black Lizard in 1999.
The book takes place in the fictitious town of Manduwoc, a small coastal village in Northeastern New York. Due to economic hardship, this community has been downgraded from lavish resort community to a washed-up skeleton of despair and neglect. Thompson uses individual characters to tell their stories in alternating first-person narrations. The overall concept is a murder mystery slowly disclosing to the reader who killed an older woman named Luane Devore.
The robust cast of characters includes Luane's younger husband, the local doctor, the doctor's son and a real-estate contractor among others. Each chapter's account is a testimony to the shifting narrator's weakness, complete with shady histories, corruptible events, financial disruptions and, of course, sex. Hot, wild, untamed, interracial sex. But considering the number of historical accounts of these characters and their arms-length relationship with Luane, none of it is particularly interesting.
The Kill-Off is a slowly-developing story, and not particularly engaging. The presentation is unique, but the overall plot development was unexciting - robbing the reader of anything resembling a pleasurable experience. If you are a regular blog reader or podcast listener, you know that Jim Thompson isn't a Paperback Warrior favorite. The consensus here is that he’s overrated and saddles his novels with plodding and often senseless narratives. There’s nothing about The Kill-Off to change our minds.
Admittedly, Thompson is a good writer with a penchant for unusual characters. However, The Kill-Off showcases inept storytelling populated by uninteresting and unlikable characters. Even in death, Thompson has a rabid bunch of fans who come to his aid every time Paperback Warrior pans another one of his overrated, overwritten novels. I can’t help but wonder how they will defend trash like The Kill Off. The hate mail we’ll receive will certainly be more compelling than the solution to the book’s central murder. For the uninitiated, don’t bother.
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