SAVAGE NIGHT by Jim Thompson was written during his 50’s hot streak, and it’s a big slab of greasy Thompson, with another loony ending. It’s about a 5-foot-tall hit man who’s dying of tuberculosis who stays in a boarding house with a woman with a bum leg, another woman who’s the wife of his target, and an old coot who may work for the mob and be reporting back on how the hit is going or may be just an old coot. This being Thompson, it’s not about the crime happening and then our anti-hero being shot by the cops as he flees for love, but about the protagonist’s mind as he coughs his way through what may be an ordinary hit or something far more sinister (from his point of view).
Thompson’s crime novels gave some editors fits because they wouldn’t STAY crime novels, and this is one of the slipperiest of the bunch. The target of the hit is barely characterized, and has little to do in the course of the book. This isn’t a trippy book–Thompson might be the Philip K. Dick of crime, but we don’t get some lunatic escape from reality. Instead, we’re locked inside the head of a man whose health and situation feed his paranoia about WHY he is even in this house.
I haven’t mentioned the character who makes this such a bizarre book. And I won’t now. But I will say the last few pages, where the main character ends up in another of Thompson’s surreal landscapes, made the whole trip worthwhile for me, but I can see folks who like CSI-type crime novels wondering what the hell they just read.