If a book has an endorsement from Stanley Kubrick on the front and Stephen King on the back it must have something going for it. Written in the 1950s, The Killer Inside Me is recognisably set within the hardboiled detective genre but it subverts expectations by focusing on psychology rather than action. There is a rich industrialist, a cunning union boss and a prostitute but among them Thompson drops an unusual main character: Lou Ford, a Texan deputy sheriff who is also a killer. It is through his eyes that the story unfolds.
We know from the beginning that Ford has what he calls ‘the sickness’. It has been dormant since his childhood but returns when he is sent to run a prostitute out of town. He gives her a beating but she still begins a relationship with him. Her willingness to accept his dark side leads Ford to conclude that things will soon get out of control unless he kills her.
Of course, things don’t go according to plan and further killings are necessary. With each killing Ford believes he is a step closer to being able to restart his life free of the sickness but those around him are beginning to grow suspicious.
What’s fascinating about this book is the way Thompson plants us in the killer’s head. With great subtlety, he makes us understand that Ford believes what he’s doing is logical while also leaving us in no doubt that the man is seriously deranged. Limiting our perspective in this way also enables Thompson to set up a final twist, that once again belongs in the hardboiled world.
It’s an unusual, subtle and perceptive novel and an enjoyable read.