Jim Thompson is considered one of the masters of American crime fiction. So how is it that I never read him until now?
I’ve no reason for not reading him before, but I have to say that I was not all that impressed. Reading After Dark, My Sweet was a deja vu experience, I kept sensing that I’d already read something just like this before.
After Dark, My Sweet is about William “Kid” Collins, an ex-boxer and former inmate of a state asylum. Drifting from town to town, just a few dollars in his pocket, Collins meets up with Fay Anderson, a former beauty now bar fly who introduces him to her “Uncle” Bud. In love with Fay and bullied by Bud, Collins is soon drawn into their plot to kidnap the young son of local millionaires. The crime goes wrong, of course, terribly wrong.
Thompson wrote After Dark, My Sweet in 1955, so someone who knows the genre better than I do please tell me if he got there first, but I kept thinking that I’d read this before, in James M. Cain maybe, Postman Always Rings Twice, or saw it in some RKO classic film-noir, didn’t Robert Mitchum meet this same woman five or six times, maybe it was Richard Widmark. It all just seemed very familiar. Even the criminal as narrator seemed like an old device.
Not that I mind old devices. Anyone who reads a lot of genre fiction like I do has to enjoy familiar tropes, genre fiction is built on them. (Probably all fiction is, really.) But if you’re noticing the tropes when you should be enjoying them, then there’s a problem.
I don’t think I can quite pin-point why After Dark, My Sweet didn’t work for me. Maybe I just didn’t really buy into the relationship between Collins and Fay. He’s not stable, mentally, or so he tells us; she’s just barely standing this side of sober most of the time. What they see in each other is a mystery to me–are they just the only person the other has the opportunity to hold? Fay seems to be aware of this; Collins is not really aware of much.
That’s probably it. I think I would enjoy this story from Fay’s point of view. That’s a point of view I don’t think I’ve seen before, but it’s not one Jim Thompson could have written from, not in 1955. Fay’s character is not one we see placed in the center of the story much. Too, bad. It would make for an interesting novel.
More interesting than After Dark, My Sweet.
This is my first official read for The TBR Double Dog Dare. While The Dare has already started, if you’re interesting in joining us you still can. Just go to The Dare page by clicking the picture at the top of this page and sign up in a comment. It really is a fun little “challenge” reading only books you already own for three months. You’ll probably be surprised by just how good your taste in books is.
5 thoughts on “After Dark, My Sweet by Jim Thompson”
Interesting review, James. I do read a lot of crime fiction and a good bit of it is from before 1960, but I have not read anything by Jim Thompson, so could not say whether he “got there first.” I hope someone else chimes in on that. I do want to read at least one of his books, but in general I think his books are darker than I like. Nevertheless, I need to give him a try.
This one does have the advantage of being very short. I also have The Killer Inside Me which I do intend to read sometime.
I have The Grifters (which became a film; haven’t seen it, have you?) and The Killer Inside Me (ditto, more recently), both of which are in my TBR. Maybe the Double Dog Dare will give me a chance to read em…perhaps this is one of his weaker novels?? Let you know what I think when I get to them.
I thought the movie of The Grifters was excellent. I’m interested in hearing from more people who have read Jim Thompson.
Let me know when you’re reading The Killer Inside Me; I’ll read it too. Doesn’t look that long either. It has the advantage over many of my books in that I actually know where it is (bedroom windowsill. I think!)
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