From: Patrick King (
Date: 08 Nov 2009

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    To call Jim the most over rated writer would be a harsh look at someone who never gave up trying something 'different' all throughout his writing. He was a writer who could have come up with real bad stuff if he had only tried plot driven stories as many writers did and if he had only worked only on charchter driven stories like Chandler. What Jim achieved was 'never-done- before-kinda- stuff' and we must look at him from that angle.


    While I agree with you that several comments made about Jim Thompson recently on this list are absurd, making more of a statement about the commenters' reading comprehension than about Thompson's writing skill. But I will take you to task regarding your comment that Chandler's books were "character driven." Chandler's novels, every one, are plot driven. They're detective stories and so are driven by the events of the story and how they unravel. This is the definition, as James M. Cain defined it, of the plot driven novel. An example of a character driven novel would be Cain's own MILDRED PIERCE, in which the actual events in the story are not notable except to the extent that they impact the main characters. Mann's DEATH IN VENICE is a fine example of a character driven novel.

    Although Phillip Marlow, Sam Spade, Mike Hammer, C. Auguste Dupin, Sherlock Holmes, Perry Mason, et al, may be strong characters that capture the readers' imagination, the stories they appear in are the attraction. The problem and its resolution are the driving factor. The strong characters are an added plus but they don't actually drive the story.

    When Cain made the distinction, plot vs. character, he compared THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE to MILDRED PIERCE. POSTMAN outsold MILDRED by thousands of copies although Cain believed MILDRED was the better book. He thought the strong story line of POSTMAN as opposed to the strong character of MILDRED was the deciding factor for readers. See Roy Hoopes Cain bio for the specifics of this discussion.

    Jim Thompson gave us many strong characters but even in his "character studies" like BAD BOY and ROUGHING IT, the characters are secondary to the series of events described. Even in THE CRIMINAL, which is told from the perspective of several interview subjects, the events that drive the boy to murder is the driving factor, not the individual characters that try to explain it. All of Thompson's books I can think of are plot driven stories.

    Patrick King






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