My favourite crime novels – number 12

The Grifters – Jim Thompson’s The Grifters is not really a thriller as such, it’s more of a drama set amongst criminals. It concerns Roy Dillon, a young con-man, and the emotional triangle between him, his mother, and his girlfriend, both of whom like the con. The thing that makes it so compelling is that Roy, for all his faults, is likeable and he is genuinely torn between life as a con-artist and a life as an ordinary, law-abiding citizen and is torn between his mother and his girlfriend. And the suspense is cranked up and amplified by this simple set-up. The Grifters also has one of the great femme fatales in Lilly Dillon, Roy’s mother, who is a truly venal, grasping creature and yet utterly human. The ending, which Lilly instigates, is truly great. It elevates what is already a fine novel into something far superior. It is somehow both ice-cold and heartbreaking. It encapsulates Jim Thompson’s brilliant aphorism: Life’s a bucket of shit with a barbed wire handle


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