Reprinted by Vintage Crime/Black Lizard Edition (1984)
Jim Thompson (1906 – 1977) is a suspense writer who produced his best work during a prolific period between 1952 and 1955. Among the stories written during that time was A Hell of a Woman, which contains all of the classic noir elements of a Thompson novel: a sociopath narrator, plenty of hairpin plot turns, coarse language and the seedy underbelly of American life after World War II.
Part of the joy of a Jim Thompson novel is the rapid plot turns, and the language, which is harsh and crude. In A Hell of a Woman, Frank Dillon is a down-on-his-luck, door-to-door salesman during the 50s who plans to rescue a beautiful young woman from the clutches of her elderly aunt and steal $100,000 from the older woman. Frank’s internal dialogue is like a roller coaster ride of unfiltered thoughts. Here is Frank's initial description of the elderly aunt:
“The door flew open while I was still beating on it. I took one look around at this dame and moved back fast. It wasn’t the young one, the haunted-looking babe I’d seen peering through the curtains. This was an old biddy with a beak like a hawk and close-set, mean little eyes. She was about seventy – I don’t know how anyone could have got that ugly in less than seventy years – but she looked plenty hale and hearty. She was carrying a heavy cane, and I got the impression that she was all ready to use it. On me.”
A Hell of a Woman is a wild romp of a story that has more twists and turns than a demolition derby, and is full of nasty surprises. You’ll often find yourself laughing out loud as Frank’s hapless scheme unravels with horrific and deadly consequences.
If A Hell of A Woman is your first introduction to Jim Thompson, you won’t be disappointed. Other Thompson novels that I’ve read (and recommend) include: The Killer Inside Me, Pop. 1280, Savage Night and The Grifters.