The narrator of this fine noir novel is Carl Bigelow, once known as Little Bigger, a notorious hit man for the mob who is five feet tall and perpetually looks like a kid. He has been hiding out in Arizona, running a gas station, having got a new set of teeth, contact lenses, and a new life…but he is suffering from a lung ailment that has him coughting up blood from time to time.
“The Man” has found him…The Man is a mysterious syndicate guy who one day is in the papers for indictments, beats them, and a month later he is seen in society pages yukking it up with the judges and politicians who were trying to convict him of this or that. We realize it is all for show, and it is all about money.
There is a fellow who is abut to tur state’s evidence because he cannot deal with jail, and Carl Littke Bigger has been found and hired t take the guy out. Carl cannot say no to the job, or The Man will just have him killed, just as The Man orders Carl to kill a mutual acquanitance to prove he still has a killer inside him.
The plot for murder is an intricate one: Carl moves to the snall town where the target lives, enrolls in the local teacher’s college as a cover, and rents a room in the house of te very target…there he seduces and plays emotional games with the target’s lonely ex-singer/stripper wife, and the crippled maid, Ruthie, who also goes to the college.
Ruthie needs crutches because ne of her legs, at the knee, did not fully form, and there at the knee isna tiny foot wth tiny toes. Carl witnesses this tiny foot when he ravishes Ruthie in his bedroom in one of the most perverse sex scenes to come out of noir fiction yet.
I could see Mickey Rooney in this part, c. 1960 or so…a small tough guy. How does this five foot fellow charm the ladies? They crave attention and he gives it to them — he is s charmer, and flatters them, and gets them to love him…the idea, he tells The Man, is to get the wife to actually help him murder the target, and he will patsy her and make it look like she did it alone.
Instead, he frames Ruthie, and then runs away with her…he runs because he knows The Man will take him out after he does the job, to insure no loose ends.
The local good ol’ boy sheriff suspects him, checks him out…and in a bold and swifty move, Carl frames himself by sending an anonymous note stating who he really is, the notorious Little Bigger, but shen it all comes up to look like b.s., it helps him in his plan.
But Carl is insane…he is dying from his ailment, he knows he will never get out of the grip of the mob, and he slowly goes nuts…he may even have fallen for Ruthie, the cripple girl he has knocked up and framed for murder.
The last 10 pages are bizarre…we are not sure what is reality and what are hallucinations…did he kill Ruthie and the baby in her or has she murdered him? Did she ever exist? Has this whole novel been the wild paranoid fantasies of a dying man?
An amazing read…evidence of Thompson’s brilliance as the, yes, Fyodor D. of crime spree. Existential, literate, and American all the way.