The Killer inside Me

The Killer inside Me

3.6 41
by Jim Thompson

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Lou Ford is the deputy sheriff of a small town in Texas.  The worst thing most people can say against him is that he's a little slow and a little boring.  But, then, most people don't know about the sickness—the sickness that almost got Lou put away when he was younger.  The sickness that is about to surface again.



Lou Ford is the deputy sheriff of a small town in Texas.  The worst thing most people can say against him is that he's a little slow and a little boring.  But, then, most people don't know about the sickness—the sickness that almost got Lou put away when he was younger.  The sickness that is about to surface again.

An underground classic since its publication in 1952, The Killer Inside Me is the book that made Jim Thompson's name synonymous with the roman noir.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Probably the most chilling and believable first-person story of a criminally warped mind I have ever encountered." —Stanley Kubrick

"Jim Thompson is the best suspense writer going, bar none." —The New York Times

Gale Research
In his New York Times Book Review article, Lawrence Block described Ford as Thompson's "single most memorable character." New Republic's David Thomson declared of the author's protagonists, "They talk to us in a way we know after we have read the books that real-life mass murderers must talk to themselves." Writer and film director Stanley Kubrick assessed The Killer inside Me as "probably the most chilling and believable first-person story of a criminally warped mind I have ever encountered" in Thomson's New Republic review.

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Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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5.17(w) x 7.95(h) x 0.70(d)

Read an Excerpt

I'd finished my pie and was having a second cup of coffee when I saw him. The midnight freight had come in a few minutes before; and he was peering in one end of the restaurant window, the end nearest the depot, shading his eyes with his hand and blinking against the light. He saw me watching him, and his face faded back into the shadows. But I knew he was still there. I knew he was waiting. The bums always size me up for an easy mark.

I lit a cigar and slid off my stool. The waitress, a new girl from Dallas, watched as I buttoned my coat. "Why, you don't even carry a gun!" she said, as though she was giving me a piece of news.

"No," I smiled. "No gun, no blackjack, nothing like that. Why should I?"

"But you're a cop—a deputy sheriff, I mean. What if some crook should try to shoot you?"

"We don't have many crooks here in Central City, ma'am," I said. "Anyway, people are people, even when they're a little misguided. You don't hurt them, they won't hurt you. They'll listen to reason.

She shook her head, wide-eyed with awe, and I strolled up to the front. The proprietor shoved back my money and laid a couple of cigars on top of it. He thanked me again for taking his son in hand.

"He's a different boy now, Lou," he said, kind of running his words together like foreigners do. "Stays in nights; gets along fine in school. And always he talks about you—what a good man is Deputy Lou Ford."

"I didn't do anything," I said. "Just talked to him. Showed him a little interest. Anyone else could have done as much."

"Only you," he said. "Because you are good, you make others so." He was all ready to sign off with that, but I wasn't. I leaned an elbow on the counter, crossed one foot behind the other and took a long slow drag on my cigar. I liked the guy—as much as I like most people, anyway— but he was too good to let go. Polite, intelligent: guys like that are my meat.

"Well, I tell you," I drawled. "I tell you the way I look at it, a man doesn't get any more out of life than what he puts into it."

"Umm," he said, fidgeting. "I guess you're right, Lou."

"I was thinking the other day, Max; and all of a sudden I had the doggonedest thought. It came to me out of a clear sky—the boy is father to the man. Just like that. The boy is father to the man."

The smile on his face was getting strained. I could hear his shoes creak as he squirmed. If there's anything worse than a bore, it's a corny bore. But how can you brush off a nice friendly fellow who'd give you his shirt if you asked for it?

"I reckon I should have been a college professor or something like that," I said. "Even when I'm asleep I'm working out problems. Take that heat wave we had a few weeks ago; a lot of people think it's the heat that makes it so hot. But it's not like that, Max. It's not the heat, but the humidity. I'll bet you didn't know that, did you?"

He cleared his throat and muttered something about being wanted in the kitchen. I pretended like I didn't hear him.

"Another thing about the weather," I said. "Everyone talks about it, but no one does anything. But maybe it's better that way. Every cloud has its silver lining, at least that's the way I figure it. I mean, if we didn't have the rain we wouldn't have the rainbows, now would we?"

"Lou. . ."

"Well," I said, "I guess I'd better shove off. I've got quite a bit of getting around to do, and I don't want to rush. Haste makes waste, in my opinion. I like to look before I leap."

That was dragging 'em in by the feet, but I couldn't hold 'em back. Striking at people that way is almost as good as the other, the real way. The way I'd fought to forget—and had almost forgot—until I met her.

I was thinking about her as I stepped out into the cool West Texas night and saw the bum waiting for me.

Central City was founded in 1870, but it never became a city in size until about ten-twelve years ago. It was a shipping point for a lot of cattle and a little cotton; and Chester Conway, who was born here, made it headquarters for the Conway Construction Company. But it still wasn't much more than a wide place in a Texas road. Then, the oil boom came, and almost overnight the population jumped to 48,000.

Well, the town had been laid out in a little valley amongst a lot of hills. There just wasn't any room for the newcomers, so they spread out every whichway with their homes and businesses, and now they were scattered across a third of the county. It's not an unusual situation in the oil-boom country—you'll see a lot of cities like ours if you're ever out this way. They don't have any regular city police force, just a constable or two. The sheriff's office handles the policing for both city and county.

We do a pretty good job of it, to our own way of thinking at least. But now and then things get a little out of hand, and we put on a cleanup. It was during a cleanup three months ago that I ran into her.

"Name of Joyce Lakeland," old Bob Maples, the sheriff, told me. "Lives four-five miles out on Derrick Road, just past the old Branch farm house. Got her a nice little cottage up there behind a stand of blackjack trees."

"I think I know the place," I said. "Hustlin' lady, Bob?"

"We-el, I reckon so but she's bein' mighty decent about it. She ain't running it into the ground, and she ain't takin' on no roustabouts or sheepherders. If some of these preachers around town wasn't rompin' on me, I wouldn't bother her a-tall."

I wondered if he was getting some of it, and decided that he wasn't. He wasn't maybe any mental genius, but Bob Maples was straight. "So how shall I handle this Joyce Lakeland?" I said. "Tell her to lay off a while, or to move on?"

"We-el," he scratched his head, scowling—"I dunno, Lou. Just—well, just go out and size her up, and make your own decision. I know you'll be gentle, as gentle and pleasant as you can be. An' I know you can be firm if you have to. So go on out, an' see how she looks to you. I'll back you up in whatever you want to do."

It was about ten o'clock in the morning when I got there. I pulled the car up into the yard, curving it around so I could swing out easy. The county license plates didn't show, but it wasn't deliberate. It was just the way it had to be.

I eased up on the porch, knocked on the door and stood back, taking off my Stetson.

I was feeling a little uncomfortable. I hardly knew what I was going to say to her. Because maybe we're kind of old-fashioned, but our standards of conduct aren't the same, say, as they are in the east or middle-west. Out here you say yes ma'am and no ma'am to anything with skirts on; anything white, that is. Out here, if you catch a man with his pants down, you apologize . . . even if you have to arrest him afterwards. Out here you're a man, a man and a gentleman, or you aren't anything. And God help you if you're not.

The door opened an inch or two. Then, it opened all the way and she stood looking at me.

"Yes?" she said coldly.

She was wearing sleeping shorts and a wool pullover; her brown hair was as tousled as a lamb's tail, and her unpainted face was drawn with sleep. But none of that mattered. It wouldn't have mattered if she'd crawled out of a hog-wallow wearing a gunny sack. She had that much.

She yawned openly and said "Yes?" again, but I still couldn't speak. I guess I was staring open-mouthed like a country boy. This was three months ago, remember, and I hadn't had the sickness in almost fifteen years. Not since I was fourteen.

She wasn't much over five feet and a hundred pounds, and she looked a little scrawny around the neck and ankles. But that was all right. It was perfectly all right. The good Lord had known just where to put that flesh where it would really do some good.

"Oh, my goodness!" She laughed suddenly. "Come on in. I don't make a practice of it this early in the morning, but . . ." She held the screen open and gestured. I went in and she closed it and locked the door again.

"I'm sorry, ma'am," I said, "but—"

"It's all right. But I'll have to have some coffee first. You go on back."

I went down the little hall to the bedroom, listening uneasily as I heard her drawing water for the coffee. I'd acted like a chump. It was going to be hard to be firm with her after a start like this, and something told me I should be. I didn't know why; I still don't. But I knew it right from the beginning. Here was a little lady who got what she wanted, and to hell with the price tag.

Well, hell, though; it was just a feeling. She'd acted all right, and she had a nice quiet little place here. I decided I'd let her ride, for the time being anyhow. Why not? And then I happened to glance into the dresser mirror and I knew why not. I knew I couldn't. The top dresser drawer was open a little, and the mirror was tilted slightly. And hustling ladies are one thing, and hustling ladies with guns are something else.

I took it out of the drawer, a .32 automatic, just as she came in with the coffee tray. Her eyes flashed and she slammed the tray down on a table. "What," she snapped, are you doing with that?"

I opened my coat and showed her my badge. "Sheriff's office, ma'am. What are you doing with it?"

She didn't say anything. She just took her purse off the dresser, opened it and pulled out a permit. It had been issued in Fort Worth, but it was all legal enough. Those things are usually honored from one town to another.

"Satisfied, copper?" she said.

"I reckon it's all right, miss," I said. "And my name's Ford, not copper." I gave her a big smile, but I didn't get any back. My hunch about her had been dead right. A minute before she'd been all set to lay, and it probably wouldn't have made any difference if I hadn't had a dime. Now she was set for something else, and whether I was a cop or Christ didn't make any difference either. I wondered how she'd lived so long.

"Jesus!" she jeered. "The nicest looking guy I ever saw and you turn out to be a lousy snooping copper. How much? I don't jazz cops."

I felt my face turning red. "Lady," I said, "that's not very polite. I just came out for a little talk."

"You dumb bastard," she yelled. "I asked you what you wanted."

"Since you put it that way," I said, "I'll tell you. I want you out of Central City by sundown. If I catch you here after that I'll run you in for prostitution."

I slammed on my hat and started for the door. She got in front of me, blocking the way.

"You lousy son-of-a-bitch. You—"

"Don't you call me that," I said. "Don't do it, ma am.

"I did call you that! And I'll do it again! You're a son—of-a-bitch, bastard, pimp. .

I tried to push past her. I had to get out of there. I knew what was going to happen if I didn't get out, and I knew I couldn't let it happen. I might kill her. It might bring the sickness back. And even if I didn't and it didn't, I'd be washed up. She'd talk. She'd yell her head off. And people would start thinking, thinking and wondering about that time fifteen years ago.

She slapped me so hard that my ears rang, first on one side then the other. She swung and kept swinging. My hat flew off. I stooped to pick it up, and she slammed her knee under my chin.

I stumbled backward on my heels and sat down on the floor. I heard a mean laugh, then another laugh sort of apologetic. She said, "Gosh, sheriff, I didn't mean to—I— you made me so mad I—I—"

"Sure," I grinned. My vision was clearing and I found my voice again. "Sure, ma'am, I know how it was. Used to get that way myself. Give me a hand, will you?"

"You-you won't hurt me?"

"Me? Aw, now, ma'am."

"No," she said, and she sounded almost disappointed. "I know you won't. Anyone can see you're too easy-going." And she came over to me slowly and gave me her hands.

I pulled myself up. I held her wrists with one hand and swung. It almost stunned her; I didn't want her completely stunned. I wanted her so she would understand what was happening to her.

"No, baby"—my lips drew back from my teeth.

"I'm not going to hurt you. I wouldn't think of hurting you. I'm just going to beat the ass plumb off of you.

I said it, and I meant it and I damned near did.

I jerked the jersey up over her face and tied the end in a knot. I threw her down on the bed, yanked off her sleeping shorts and tied her feet together with them.

I took off my belt and raised it over my head. .

I don't know how long it was before I stopped, before I came to my senses. All I know is that my arm ached like hell and her rear end was one big bruise, and I was scared crazy—as scared as a man can get and go on living.

I freed her feet and hands, and pulled the jersey off her head. I soaked a towel in cold water and bathed her with it. I poured coffee between her lips. And all the time I was talking, begging her to forgive me, telling her how sorry I was.

I got down on my knees by the bed, and begged and apologized. At last her eyelids fluttered and opened.

"D-don't," she whispered.

"I won't," I said. "Honest to God, ma'am, I won't ever— "Don't talk." She brushed her lips against mine.

"Don't say you're sorry."

She kissed me again. She began fumbling at my tie, my shirt; starting to undress me after I'd almost skinned her alive.

I went back the next day and the day after that.  I kept going back.  And it was like a wind had been turned on in a dying fire.  I began needling people in that dead-pan way—needling them about settling scores with Chester Conway, of the Conway Construction Company.

I won't say that I hadn't thought of it before.  Maybe I'd stayed on in Central City all these years, just in the hopes of getting even.  But except for her I don't think I'd ever have done anything.  She'd made the old fire burn again.  She even showed me how to square with Conway.

She didn't know she was doing it, but she gave me the answer.  It was one day, one night rather, about six weeks after we'd met.  

"Lou," she said, "I don't want to go on like this.  Let's pull out of this crummy town together, just you and I."

"Why, you're crazy!" I said.  I said it before I could stop myself.  "You think I'd—I'd—"

"Go on, Lou.  Let me hear you say it.  Tell me"—she began to drawl—"what a fine ol' family you'all Fords is.  Tell me, we-all Fords, ma'am, we wouldn't think of livin' with one of you mizzable ol' whores, ma'am.  Us Fords just ain't built that way, ma'am."

That was a part of it, a big part.  But it wasn't the main thing.  I knew she was making me worse; I knew that if I didn't stop soon I'd never be able to .  I'd wind up in a cage or an electric chair.

"Say it, Lou. Say it and I'll say something."

"Don't threaten me, baby," I said. "I don't like threats."

"I'm not threatening you. I'm telling you. You think you're too good for me—I'll—I'll—"

"Go on. It's your turn to do the saying."

"I wouldn't want to, Lou, honey, but I'm not going to give you up. Never, never, never. If you're too good for me now, then I'll make it so you won't be."

I kissed her, a long hard kiss. Because baby didn't know it, but baby was dead, and in a way I couldn't have loved her more.

"Well, now, baby," I said, "you've got your bowels in an uproar and all over nothing. I was thinking about the money problem.

"I've got some money. I can get some more. A lot of it."


"I can, Lou. I know I can! He's crazy about me and he's dumb as hell. I'll bet if his old man thought I was going to marry him, he—"

"Who?" I said. "Who are you talking about, Joyce?"

"Elmer Conway. You know who he is, don't you? Old Chester—"

"Yeah," I said. "Yeah, I know the Conways right well. How do you figure on hookin' 'em?"

We talked it over, lying there on her bed together, and off in the night somewhere a voice seemed to whisper to forget it, forget it, Lou, it's not too late if you stop now. And I did try, God knows I tried. But right after that, right after the voice, her hand gripped one of mine and kneaded it into her breasts; and she moaned and shivered and so I didn't forget.

"Well," I said, after a time, "I guess we can work it out. The way I see it is, if at first you don't succeed, try, try again."

"Mmm, darling?"

"In other words," I said, "where there's a will there's a way.

She squirmed a little, and then she snickered. "Oh, Lou, you corny so and so! You slay me!"

Meet the Author

(1906 - 1977) James Meyers Thompson was born in Anadarko, Oklahoma. He began writing fiction at a very young age, selling his first story to True Detective when he was only fourteen. Thompson eventually wrote twenty-nine novels, all but three of which were published as paperback originals. Thompson also wrote two screenplays (for the Stanley Kubrick films “The Killing” and “Paths of Glory”). An outstanding crime writer, the world of his fiction is rife with violence and corruption. In examining the underbelly of human experience and American society in particular, Thompson’s work at its best is both philosophical and experimental. Several of his novels have been filmed by American and French directors, resulting in classic noir including The Killer Inside Me (1952), After Dark My Sweet (1955), and The Grifters (1963).

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The Killer Inside Me 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 41 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
All is not as it seems in this is chilling account told by Lou Ford, a sheriff's deputy in a small town in Texas. This easy-going, well-liked man is a respected citizen of the town and is well known for his quiet, gentle nature. But it's all an act and as Lou tells us a little about his past, the demons in his head that are behind his secret, violent nature. This is a serial killer book with a couple of very interesting features. The first is, it was written back when stories about serial killers weren't very common and so, was pretty groundbreaking stuff. The second is that it is written entirely in the first person from the point of view of the killer. We get the total range of emotions from before, during and after each murder. The thought processes that prompt every action and the way he goes about covering up his tracks satisfies the stream of consciousness style writing that makes this book so chilling. We get a terrific example of the grim style of Jim Thompson's storytelling that is captivating and slightly horrifying. The book is a great example of the excellent usage of stream of consciousness to better understand the intricate inner workings of a psychotic man.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I just finished the 29 page sample of this book which would have been sufficient except 27 of those pages were the introduction written by Stephen King. I prefer to read an actual sample of the AUTHOR'S writing, not someone else's opinion (even Stephen King's, one of my favorite authors) and one and a half pages is hardly a sample. N. Yaras
Guest More than 1 year ago
The first part of this book scared me so much that it took me two years to finish. After the the main character talks to the call girl,I nearly threw up. Why did I keep reading? Jim Thompson's prose is so terse, and I loved his book, Pop. 1280. By the end you just feel like Thompson understands the perverted mind so much that one feels he could not have been sane himself. And then you realize that it's the writing. It's just brilliant!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I think Worst.Book.Ever is a cheapskate in disguise. Dude you should have used Overdrive and read it free. Do you have a library card? Maybe i should ask, "do they have libraries where you are from?".
Guest More than 1 year ago
The tale of an average joe - who is sick ... very sick. Thompson takes you deeply into his world. It made me recognize how little separates us from the disturbed. KT
Guest More than 1 year ago
I am new to Thompson. I think I picked the perfect book to introduce myself to one of the masters of the genre. Witty, dry, intriguing and horrific, Thompson's 'protagonist' Lou Ford is a brilliant piece of work. A quick read that stays with you. I am moving on to the next Thompson with great eagerness...
Sonnyci More than 1 year ago
For a book published back in the 50's I never expected it to be ss disturbing and at times frightening. The characters really gave you that realism that you don't always find in a book. A vey quick read , but worth taking the time to indulge in it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The only reason I can see that Stephen King would have endorsed such a piece of trash, is that the "author" was blackmailing him. Did anyone actually believe that she was really dead?? The only good thing I can say about this crap is that it is only 200 pages long. The writing was shoddy, boring, and poorly thought out. I would have dropped it like a hot rock if I wasn't OCD about finishing a book I have begun. Save yourself the torture and don't bother with this book. (Unless you happen to be out of toilet paper.)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I bought this book and the Talented Mr. Ripley at the same time. 80 pages into this one I put it down. The book was hard to follow. You couldnt see in your head what was going on. If your looking for what I was looking for in this book, go for The Talented Mr. Ripley.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A very honest portrayal of a demented mind. A good read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Sorry but I found this book borderline silly! Wish I could have found something worth it's recommendation, but save your $$$$$
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A brilliant and disturbing novel
Basil More than 1 year ago
A roadside billboard reads: WARNING! WARNING! HITCHHIKERS MAY BE ESCAPED LUNATICS Welcome to the nightmare world of Jim Thompson, author Stephen King invites us in his laudatory introduction to The Killer Inside Me. "This anonymous and little-read Oklahoma novelist captured the spirit of his age...emptiness, a feeling of loss in a land of plenty..." However, whether Thompson enjoys space on the shelf beside Moby Dick and Huckleberry Finn, as King suggests, is highly arguable. But the book's stand in the mystery/slasher genre is high indeed. Says King in a memorable quote from another critic: "Leslie Fiedler suggests in "Love and Death in the American Novel" that the language Thompson employs to tell Deputy Ford's story has a kind of starey, socketed ugliness that rasps across our minds like stiff wire bristles." This is especially true in passeges like: "I backed her against the wall, slugging, and it was like pounding a pumpkin...I wiped my gloves on her body; it was her blood and it belonged there." Thompson also has a strong feel for his venue, Central City, Texas, and its local standards of conduct, including the Sheriff's interview with a "hustlin' lady." Thus: "Out here you say ma'am and no ma'am to anything with skirts on; anything white, that is...Out here you're a man, a man and a gentleman, or you aren't anything. And God help you if you're not." Jim Thompson deserves due respect for The Killer Inside Me. At its best--and that's frequent enough--the work has a masterful, colorful grip.
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J3v0n More than 1 year ago
I struggled to read this title because the narration was boring. I sense that this title would have been better if it was a movie because reading the internal musing of the main character turned out to be uninteresting and tedious.