A Swell-Looking Babe by Jim Thompson (Lion Books, 1954; Black Lizard Books, 1987)

A third-person narrative, where Thompson normally wrote his best in first person, of young Dusty Rhodes, a bellhop in an “upscale” ($15 a night) hotel that never lets a single woman take a roon, because chnaces are she is a working girl, and young couples must show marriage certificates, and more importantly: employees are forbidden to spend some time in any guests rooms, especially the male employees with female guests. Dusty has had some propositions but thus far has ignored temptation, until one swell-looking babe from Dallas comes rolling into town and takes a room…her looks even make the night desk clerk forget that she is a single woman, and she gets the special rate of $10 a night.

His life basically sucks. He was going to college with an intent of becoming a doctor, but then his mom died, and his father lost his teaching job because he had signed a petition associated with an American Communist group. It is the early 1950s, there is the red scare and the black listing. His father’s health is bad and his mind is slipping. Dustyhad to quit college and get a job not take care of his dad, and pay the lawyer handling his dad’s lawsuit to get his job back.  Working the night shift at the Manton Hotel is better for him, the tips are better.

One of the residents is a former botegger and wise guy with underworld crime connections named Tug. He always has wise guys coming to visit him. Tug has taken a liking to the young bellhop Dusty.

One night the swell-looking babe calls up for stationary and Dusty brings itto her…he is met with her half-naked body and a lipstick smeared kiss…then she pushes him away and starts screaming…the furniture in her room is upturned…Tug comes to his rescue, tells him gthe broad is setting hm up and do’t worry, kid, ol’ Tug will take care of it.

Dusty can’t believe she has set him up for a lawsuit at the hotel; she will claim he tried to rape her; the hotel will pay her off to keep quiet. He has heard of such scams. But he has Tug onhis side, Tug and his boys have whisked Marcia away, but Tug wants Dusty to do soemthing for him: help him rob the hotel of the safe desposit boxes where some of the guests, in for the horse races, keep a lot of money, at least $200K all together…

Murders happen, doublecrosses, the babe from Dallas is in on it with Tug, they had set him up all along…and despite Dusty trying to do the right thing, nothing works out for him.

Like many Thompson novels, a noir read with a dark twist ending.

Always fun.

Swell-looking babes:

4 Responses to “A Swell-Looking Babe by Jim Thompson (Lion Books, 1954; Black Lizard Books, 1987)”

  1. I remember when those Black Lizard/Vintage reprints came out in the early ’90s, the ones with the smoky b&w pix on the covers; you couldn’t help but be drawn to them in the bookstore. Definitely the reason I started reading Thompson and noir-crime fiction in general!

  2. See “Hit Me,” starring Elias Koteas, screenplay by Denis Johnson, based on Thompson’s “A Swell-Looking Babe.” You wont be disappointed.

  3. Jeff Rich Says:

    Where are all the girls pictures from? Isn’t one of them Avril Levine?

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