Review: Texas by The Tail by Jim Thompson

Texas by The Tail seems to earn a mixed reaction from Thompson fans. It's a good one. It's not S-Tier Thompson, but it's not the hot mess some folks may try to convince you it is either. It's a solid upper-mid tier range output. Closer to mid, if we're being honest. It's a gate-keeper for the upper echelon.

Unfortunately, Texas by the Tail suffers from following The Grifters (a bedrock of the S-Tier), and unnecessarily draws comparisons to it. On the surface there's a lot of overlap. Stories about con men with troubled relationships with women, including the older women who serve as fill-ins for the protagonist's unusual relationship with a floozy mother.

Short of the surface-level thematic overlap, Texas by the Tail stands on its own. Fans of the super dark worlds Thompson creates may be disappointed here, but there are moments of Thompson's trademark viciousness -- in particular a scene where two effete hoods go to shakedown a lady. Rough stuff that is among the most violent scenes you're bound to find in any Thompson book.

The novel is also Thompson's ruminating on Texas as whole. The Texas mythology of its ascendancy as a player on the world stage, how it came to be, and the people who helped build (perhaps drilled is a better word) it. I get the feeling Thompson would love Texas if not for the frauds who make up its high-society.

It's a different underbelly of society than we're used to seeing in other pulp works or noir fiction. The low-lifes and villains of this world are oil men, millionaires, billionaires, bankers, and school-masters. But make no mistake, there's danger and thrills to be found in this world, especially for a gambler who knows to expertly throw a pair of dice.

Mitch Corley, our dice chucker, reminds me of an every-man version of Thompson's protagonists. He may consort with the underbelly, but he's a man of honor and won't cheat you.

The female characters are pretty standard here. Mitch's main squeeze, Red, has a lot to do here, but she's a femme fatale through and through. She's well drawn as a character, but just missing the nuances that Mitch gets.

Texas By The Tail by Jim Thompson -- Not bad. Not great. Pretty good. Worth a read. 3.5 stars.


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