It was supposed to be only a temporary job - something to pay the bills until Dusty could get his feet back on the ground and raise enough money for medical school. After all, there's nothing wrong with being a bellboy at a respectable hotel like the Manton - that is, until she came along.
Marcia Hillis. The perfect woman. Beautiful. Experienced. Older and wiser. The only woman to ever measure up to that other her - the one whose painful rejection Dusty can't quite put from his mind.
But while Dusty has designs on Marcia, Marcia has an agenda of her own. One that threatens to pull the Manton inside-out, use Dusty up for all he's worth, and leave him reeling and on the run, the whole world at his heels.
A richly imagined crime narrative of the Oedipal and betrayal, A Swell-Looking Babe is Thompson at his very best - a cornerstone in Thompson's enduring legacy as the Dimestore Dostoyevsky of American fiction.
"My favorite crime novelist - often imitated but never duplicated." (Stephen King)
"Jim Thompson is the best suspense writer going, bar none." (The New York Times)
"The most hard-boiled of all the American writers of crime fiction." (Chicago Tribune)
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Not a good showing for Jim Thompson
I’m a fairly big Jim Thompson fan. I admire his writing. And there are moments of good writing in this book. In fact, there are moments where his genius is on full display. I like that his stories often are full of unlikeable, ambiguous characters, unreliable narrators and scenes where characters you either did or didn’t like betray your judgments.
I don’t want to spoil the story here, so I’m being vague. The plot unravels a bit like an onion with layers unfolding a little at a time. But the problem is, the problems, winds up being it’s not worth it in the end. The main character is annoying from the get go. The sensibility of the time period Thompson wrote thing story makes it so the other characters, the regular people, are phony seeming or also unlikeable just in terms of being surely reflections of how people back then liked to see themselves rather than interesting characters.
The ending, without spoiling, is so pedantic and moralistic as to be laughable. I have to assume this wasn’t Thompson’s idea but the publisher’s. Given some of the weird things happening before hand, I can’t think this is the ending Thompson wanted. It comes off very much like a bad episode of The Fugitive (a show I really like). Though I give Thompson points for being somewhat subtle about it (the love story aspect anyway). I also like how some of the bad guys don’t even realize they’re the bad guys and talk themselves to believing their motives are different than they are.
There is a good novel in this story. Maybe it’s lost to the times. Maybe if Thompson were alive to redo the story it would be a lot better. Unfortunately, this books s for Jim Thompson and noir fans only. People who will forgive the glaring flaws.
- Bradley P. Valentine