Pop. 1280, 1964 crime novel, roughly 217 pages.
Vastly underrated during his lifetime, Jim Thompson (1906-1977) wrote over 30 novels mainly set in the “golden triangle” of Louisiana, Texas, and Oklahoma during the 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s. Most of his characters were clueless misfits, self-serving blowhards and nihilistic villains.
Pop. 1280 features a sheriff of one small town in the 1950’s Deep South, being used as the first person narrator of the entire novel. He conveys his questionable integrity best himself via the story’s opening paragraph. “Well, sir, I should have been sitting pretty, just about as pretty as a man could sit. Here I was, the high sheriff of Potts County, and I was drawing almost two thousand dollars a year – not to mention what I could pick up on the side. On top of that, I had free living quarters on the second floor of the courthouse, just as nice a place as a man could ask for; and it even had a bathroom so that I didn’t have to bathe in a washtub or tramp outside to a privy, like most folks in town did. I guess you could say that Kingdom Come was really here as far as I was concerned. I had it made, and it looked like I could go on having it made – being high sheriff of Potts County – as long as I minded my own business and didn’t arrest no one unless I just couldn’t get out of it and they didn’t amount to nothin’.”
This excerpt is one example of how Thompson’s characters were extremely funny yet quite creepy.
An admirer, Stephen King wrote the following accolade:
“The guy was over the top. The guy was absolutely over the top. Big Jim didn’t know the meaning of the word stop. There are three brave lets inherent in the foregoing – he let himself see everything, he let himself write it down, then he let himself publish it.”
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