After Dark, My Sweet – Jim Thompson (Popular Library, 1955)

Reading the Jim Thompson bio, Savage Art, Lion Books had pruchased too many manuscripts from the writer…not all his books were published in the chronology he wrote them, some were inventoried for a few years, and some were re-sold to other publishers, often new ones that needed quick product, as the case is here with After Dark, My Sweet with Popular Library. (Harlan Ellison has a great personal story of selling his first novel, Web of the City, to Lion for $1,000 in 1958 — in fact he met Thompson at the Lion Books office — and then he was drafted, and while working on the armny base newspaper over a year later where he talked them into a book review section, he opened a box of review copies from Pryamid Books and found one called Rumble with bis name on it…Lion had gone ot of bisiness and had sold its unpublished inventory of manuscripts to Pryamid.)

After Dark is narrated by the typical outsider caught up in crime…Kevin “Kid” Collins is an ex-boxer who has escaped from a mental institute…he has anger management and rage issues and had removed his goves and murdered his oppenent in the ring.  Acting a bit insane and mentally challenged, he got off the murder charge on an insanity plea.

He wanders into a small town and in a bar, he meets Fay, a sexy widow who takes him home and hires him to maintain the house, and later maintain her in bed. He gets pissed off at the bartender and knocks the bartender out with a skillful punch, which impresses Kay, who at first was making fun of him because he seemed slow and dim-witted.  She has a “friend,” an older man and ex-cop known as Uncle Bud, who has been plotting the kidnapping of a rich family’s sickly son.  Uncle Bud recruits Collie — as Fay calls him — into the crime, and seems she has been luring him into the scheme from the start.

Collie almost splits town, but he is in love with Kay and thinks fhey have a future, and the possibility of a three-split ransom entices him, even though he suspects that Uncle Bud will double-cross him, kill him, pin the whole kidnapping on him to make Uncle Bud look like a hero and get back into the good graces of the police department. (Mel Gibson’s movie Ransom had a simnilar plot.)

Of course, things go awry — at first taking the wrong boy from a playground, the boy having diabetes issues and needed medicine, Fay’s ambiguous attitude after she learns Collie is a bughouse escapee…

There is a 1990 movie version, a smooth indie, with Jason Patric playing Collie, Rachel Ward as Fay (with a Brit accent) and Bruce Dern as Uncle Bud.  The movie is fairly faithful to Thomspson’s story, adding in a pretty stemy multi-orgasmoic all-night sex scene (and many shots of Rachel Ward’s behind in veruy tight demin short-shorts). It was filmed in Indo, a place I know, and I was pleased to see familiar territory.

Like a number of Thomspon’s books, the novel is the final thoughts of a man before he dies, but we see it coming…how else could it be for Kid Collins?  It’s almost as if he wants it, knowing he is a loser in life who knew a few moments of happiness.

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