"Pop 1280" is so full of paradoxes that it probably shouldn't work at all. It is beautiful yet brutal, poetic yet profane, hilarious yet horrifying. It deserves to be ranked among the great literary masterpieces of the American south. It is funnier than Eudora Welty's "Ponder Heart" or "The Robber Bridegroom," more depraved than Faulkner's "Sanctuary," and every bit as gripping as "To Kill A Mockingbird." Narrator/protagonist Nick Corey possesses as original and interesting a voice as Ignatius J. Reilley or Nick Carroway. Corey is a liar, a cheat, a glutton, an adulterer, a murderer, and a politician -- all the things we decent folk despise most -- but he is also a marvellously entertaining storyteller. Corey is as vile and repellent as Atticus Finch is good and decent, but I'd be hardpressed to say which one I'd rather sit and listen to for a couple of hours.
This is Thompson's blackly funny version of his previous masterpiece, "The Killer Inside Me." It's the same plot, but this time played for (ghastly) laughs. This time the sheriff in his madness begins to believe he is the second coming of a certain deity, and dispenses "justice" accordingly. There are passages describing the interior life of this character that will shake you to your bones in their depiction of insanity as a reasonable response to such a cruel world. This novel was made into a movie by the French filmmaker Bertrand Tavernier titled "Clean Slate" and the location was moved from Texas to colonial West Africa. It's a pretty good movie, but it's not the sick masterpiece of Thompson's book.
Published in 1964, Thompson's Pop. 1280 is one of his finest efforts. This book is unusually lucid and often hilarious. Thompson's humor ordinarily leaves you wondering whether or not he meant to be funny, or whether it was mental illness that brought it out. That isn't the case here. Pop. 1280 was obviously designed to be a black comedy from the beginning. Nick Corey is one of Thompson's best characters. There is, of course, the usual sex, crime & insanity(and plenty of booze), but it's unlike any other Thompson book I've read. It's bizarre and intentionally funny. He's thrown a bit of theology and philosophy into the mix. Pop. 1280 lampoons the back-biting, racism & hypocrisy of Small Southern Town, USA, where people only take their masks off behind closed doors. It's an incredibly fast & easy read. If you need a break from Thompson's paranoia and tension, well, here it is. Pop. 1280 is certainly one of Thompson's finest!
Reading Jim Thompson drags you into a deep ugly sordid world where nothing is quite right. All plans go awry, everyone is a suspect and the worst in humanity is sure to find you. This Thompson book is a little different in that the person doing the plotting is the main character and he's successful. He's successful mostly because he doesn't let on to the reader what he's doing until he does it. For most of the book you think that this guy is an idiot, yet things work amazingly in his favor. When he stands revealed, his philosophy out for all the readers to see you still aren't sure if he's saying everything. Some gratuitous "Southern yokel" humor thrown in does not detract from the main point of the book. In many ways this reminds me of the Michael Caine movie "Shock to the SYstem" but this book is much much more disturbing.
While some of Jim Thompson's other work (The Grifters, The Killer Inside Me) hews more closely to the classic themes of noir fiction, Pop. 1280 is the most definitive example of his oeuvre. Thompson's bizarre mix of crude humor, biting wit and horrifying crime is perfectly balanced in this book. One of the few texts I've ever seen that manages to distill America in all it's fiendish glory into something that can be assimilated in a few hours. Almost Blakean in it's nightmarish vision of life, death and spirituality.
You will never read another book like this one, because there aren't any. This defies the hard boiled genre Thompson is known for. It is hard to describe the story without revealing too much of the plot. It is about an outwardly stupid, cowardly, spineless southern sherrif in the 1920's. By the end everything you thought was happening has been turned upside down. A must read.
My favorite book by Jim Thomson. It shows the narrowness of human being spirit, the boredown of small town and the danger of being clever. Yet it leaves place for redemption. This book was made into an amazing movies by the French. They transported the action in a french west african colony with great succes. Thomson razor sharp observation can apply everywhere in the world.
I'm writing this mainly to warn readers that the review below attributed to "a reader from Pennsylvania" gives away the ending to this merciless book with no warning at all. It's an ending worth not knowing. I thought this was the funniest book I ever read until I realized it was trying to kill me.
The most exciting book I have read in years. I have begun to teach it in my classes. Thompson writes novels the way Odysseus tells stories: you're can be sure that if his fingers aren't crossed behind his back it's because he's holding a weapon