A Hell of a Woman

by Jim Thompson

I told her the world was full of nice people. I’d have hated to try to prove it to her, but I said it, anyway.

Dolly, a man who’s been mistreated by life and can never catch an even break, hustles through his life as a bottom rung door-to-door salesman in a white trash world when he stumbles across a deadbeat old woman willing to trade her niece’s sexual favors for some hokey merchandise. Dolly’s in the room with girl before he knows what’s happening and comforts her instead of taking advantage of her. She falls for him and soon lets slip that her aunt is sitting on a huge pile of cash in their rundown house.

Dolly sets up a plan to kill the old woman with the niece’s help and puts a fall guy in place, but his hapless planning, his constant second-guessing and his inability to accept any responsibility for anything is a disaster in the making. As his life crumbles around him he can’t do anything but complain about never getting a fair shake.

Despite Black Lizard’s blurb calling this book a “homegrown version of Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, there’s little to no similarity between the two main characters, the motives for the crimes or their supporting thought processes. Actually, someone over at Black Lizard should probably be slapped for that comparison—it sounds good, it’s just not remotely true.

But this is an excellent book. It’s refreshing to see a dark crime story heavily involving women where they aren’t the real villains or instigators. Dolly’s a piece of work, a character who blames the world for everything while his own stupidly selfish motives and laziness dig him a deeper and deeper hole in whatever he’s doing. At no point do we want him to succeed, and Thompson serves it up properly by giving us a story of what happened, then offering recaps from Dolly’s perspective about the same circumstances that make it look as if he was just a victim and it’s someone else’s fault (I have a childhood friend who grew up to be like this).

The read is fast and dirty, and it likely will strike chords while drawing parallels to people you know, because the characteristics of Dolly aren’t at all rare. It’s a train wreck of a situation, and you can’t help but hold on to your empty beer can as the ride rockets to its inevitable conclusion.

You won’t go wrong reading this and will probably learn a few things about yourself, mostly in the vein of what not to do. It may be a blatantly obvious lesson, but it’s one we all need from time to time as we stumble about a world with odds stacked against us.

Lonesome, he said. The man said I looked lonesome. And I had all kinds of company. All kinds. All dead.

4- stars

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