The Grifters by Jim Thompson

DATE FINISHED: May 2nd, 2012

RATED: ****

SYNOPSIS:  Like his mother before him, Roy Dillon is a grifter, living off the short con. But one day, one of his standard tricks nearly kills him, and he is forced to re-evaluate. Conveniently, he is offered a straight job as a sales manager; but his lady friend discovers his gift for the grift and offers him a deal of her own. Roy is ready to play a new game, but will the women in his life allow him to make up new rules?

THOUGHTS:   This is pulp fiction? It’s a quick read, yes, but there’s more to it than you might expect.  The characters are full of…character (for want of a better word!), and while the story races along, the reader cares about Roy, the world he was flung into by his ruthless mother Lilly, the life-or-death crossroads he finds himself at.  Does he really want to change, or is he destined to grift his life away? Although doubts & uncharacteristic introspection cloud Roy’s thoughts, and the psychology of the grifter is a principle element of the story, Thompson doesn’t give his readers time to lose interest.  The duality of all of the characters is the most intriguing aspect of this novel for me, and it really leaves you wondering about who ‘the bad guy’ is (or was).

Although first published in 1963, nothing about this novel feels dated.  I was a little thrown by Roy’s brief relations with the nurse Carol, which seemed to jar with the tone of the rest of the novel, throwing in the entirely unrelated horror of life in a concentration camp.  However, its awkwardness is well-related, and I guess this episode is just one more thing which makes Roy look at his own life more closely.

Overall, this is a pacy, straightforward read: a simple story, but not simplistic. There was an unexpected poignancy to it, and I found this a far more rewarding experience than anticipated.

FOLLOWING ON:  Further exponents of the short and long con are uncovered  in The Emigre by Joan Brady,  Paper Moon by Joe David Brown and The Flying Man by Roopa Farooki.

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