Tonawanda News

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February 4, 2013

BOOK NOOK: Art imitates hard-boiled life in 'A Hell of a Woman'

Tonawanda News — Crime novelist Jim Thompson, author of well over 20 works, didn’t just write about the hard-boiled life. He lived it.

Born in 1906 to a sheriff who would find himself incriminated on embezzlement charges, Thompson was never one to spend too much time on the moral high ground. Uninterested in traditional education, the author focused more of his time on finding ways to make a quick buck.

For example, as a teenager still in high school, Thompson would work the night shift as a bellboy at the Hotel Texas. Catering to guest’s needs during prohibition, Thompson found himself making more than $300 a week by supplying his guests with alcohol, marijuana and heroin. The official job itself only paid $15 a month.

Despite his disinterest in formal education, Thompson was a bright child, having published a number of short works while still in his teens. He attempted to go to college at the University of Nebraska in 1929 as part of a program for gifted students, but had dropped out by 1931. 

By the age of 19, Thompson was already a heavy drinker and had suffered a nervous breakdown. Such an extreme lifestyle played out into his novels and was often a heavy influence — such as in his 1954 hit, “A Hell of a Woman.”

From 1952 through 1954, Jim Thompson cranked out entire novels within a month, publishing up to five books a year. While such a pace seems like a recipe for sloppy work, “A Hell of a Woman,” along with most of his other novels released at the time, were some of his most successful.

“A Hell of a Woman” includes all the traditional noir aspects fans of the genre know and love: first person narration, get-rich-quick schemes, violence, drinking, love affairs and more. Fans of films such as “Double Indemnity” and the “Maltese Falcon” will feel right at home. 

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