Jim Thompson is king of the boozy, bleak, late noir. I thought I had read this one before, but nothing about it seemed familiar even while all of the tropes of the noir genre and particularly of the provocative pulp noir raised their unholy heads in the course of the story.
Lou Ford is a deputy sheriff with a secret--a bunch of secrets. And he spends the book accumulating more--a lot more. He is the essence of the smiling sociopath blithely plotting his way to freedom even though he knows, as one of the characters says, "It's always lightest just before the dark."
His smiling persona has leaks--people see past the mask frequently. As brilliant as he thinks he is, he can't keep what he does hidden and the story reaches exactly the type of noir climax you would expect.
Taut, terse, in parts brilliant--written in a cool, clear voice that at once plays on one's nerves and shows the bumpkin leading the yokels. In short, a powerful noir work from a powerful noir writer. Amoral, intense, studied, and clever. Short, it pull the reader through it by the electric tension of the prose and the inevitability of the events.
One of the best reads in a while.