The Killer Inside Me by Jim Thompson
I don't know what my life must have been like before I discovered the Vintage Crime/Black Lizard imprint, but I'm sure it was a dark and empty place. Or rather, it was probably a place filled with books about frustrated English professors and Upper East siders afflicted with ennui, where in the end, things turn out pretty much okay.
Black Lizard puts out everyone from Chester Himes to Joe Lansdale, and has given the work of Jim Thompson the back-in-print with a creepy, noirish cover treatment that it so richly deserves. Thompson is surprisingly under-read, especially considering the fact that he wrote a couple movies for Stanley Kubrick. That aside, he's huge in France.
The Killer Inside Me is the story of a humble Sheriff's deputy in West Texas who is assumed by all to be a little hokey, a little simple-minded, and a little too eager to engage you in cliche-riddled conversation about the weather.
That's just the way he likes it.
In reality, Lou Ford is a seething cauldron of psychosis. He did some stuff when he was younger. He doesn't go into the gory details, but it was pretty bad, and his foster brother took the fall for him. After that, Lou's daddy kept a close eye on him, but then, well, Lou's daddy died, and probably should have known he couldn't keep Lou under wraps in the first place. Because sometimes, Lou sees a woman who reminds him of HER, and when that happens, Lou just can't control what happens next.
It's one thing to read a book about a killer. It's quite another to read a book from the point of view of a killer. Lou's a pretty smart cookie, and is tremendously calculating not only when he's formulating a plan for cold-blooded murder, but also when he's manipulating the people who trust his slow-witted, good-hearted nature.
The murders take place early in the book, and we spend the rest of the time watching Lou try to keep it together. He's a monster, but one so clever and insightful that I defy you to read this book and not find yourself hoping Lou gets away with it at least once.
When a writer can make you think that, well, that writer's pretty good.
If you like...: Ruth Rendell, especially her depiction of a somewhat similar, though less sympathetic psychopath in A Demon in My View, this book is for you.