The Getaway (novel)

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The Getaway
First edition
AuthorJim Thompson
CountryUnited States
GenreCrime fiction
Publication date
Media typePrint

The Getaway is a 1958 crime novel by Jim Thompson.[1][2]


Doc McCoy pulls off what he thinks is the perfect a bank robbery, but there are things he has forgotten, a treacherous partner, his amateur criminal wife, and that there is no such thing as a clean getaway.


Carter "Doc" McCoy, an expert criminal who was recently released from prison on a pardon, plans to commit a bank robbery with three accomplices. One is his wife Carol, a former librarian who was charmed by McCoy's ruthlessness and immorality and thus became his partner-in-crime; she is waiting with their getaway car. The other two are the thuggish Rudy Torrento and the naive Jackson, both of whom are discussing the group's planned escape route: they intend to travel first to California, where they'll stay at a tourist camp Rudy knows while the heat dies down, and then to sneak across the Mexican border to go to a mysterious sanctuary for criminals run by a man called El Rey ("The King").

The bank's guard unlocks the bank door and turns off the alarm, at which point McCoy snipes and kills him from a hotel room across the street. Rudy and Jackson hurry in after the guard and hide his body, then lie in wait as the other three members of the bank staff arrive for work, ambushing and tying up each in turn. They get into the bank's safe and steal about $250,000, at which point Rudy stabs and kills Jackson in order to reduce the number of people that will get a share of the robbery's proceeds. McCoy throws a dynamite bomb into a truck loaded with bales of hay, and both he and Rudy escape while everyone is distracted by the fire. Rudy, guessing that McCoy will try to kill him in turn, pulls a gun on McCoy, but McCoy is able to talk Rudy into being distracted for a moment. McCoy then shoots Rudy, seemingly killing him, and meets up with Carol.

McCoy and Carol drive to the rural home of Beynon, a politician who sold McCoy his pardon. McCoy still owes Beynon some money and wants to pay him off before fleeing the country. Meanwhile, Rudy regains consciousness and realizes that, while he has been badly injured, he may still survive if he can get medical treatment. He thinks back to a former cellmate and friend, a Dr. Max Vonderschied, and imagines Vonderschied telling him to find a veterinarian to treat him since it is less likely that a veterinarian's sudden absence would draw alarm as compared to a regular doctor. A patrol of two police officers stumble across his position, but Rudy is able to shoot and kill both before fleeing the scene.

News about the murder of the two police officers plays over the radio, though the confident McCoy insists that it couldn't have been Rudy that killed them because he is sure he killed Rudy. They reach Beynon's house and Carol asks to take Beynon the money on her own, but McCoy rejects the idea and instead goes into the house himself. Beynon is drunk and despondent; he has heard about all three deaths (the bank guard and the two police officers) on the radio and believes that he is morally responsible. He then tries to convince McCoy that Carol, who was the one who actually met with Beynon and negotiated the price of the pardon, had agreed to betray and ultimately kill McCoy so that she and Beynon could take the money and run. Carol storms in and shoots Beynon to death before insisting to McCoy that Beynon was lying. McCoy is troubled but accepts this.

McCoy and Carol work out what to do next, eventually deciding to drive to Kansas City, take a train to California, and then try to get across the border. Carol wonders if they can hole up in California for a while and mentions that McCoy might know the legendary Santis criminal family, whose ancient matriarch Ma Santis is always willing to hide her friends and associates from the police. McCoy, though, doubts that Ma Santis is still alive and dismisses Carol's idea. The two ultimately do drive Beynon's car up to the Kansas City train station as per McCoy's plan. Carol then enters the train station first while McCoy disposes of the car, but a con artist manages to steal Carol's suitcase containing the proceeds from the bank robbery. Carol meets back up with McCoy and he goes after the con artist, who slips onto a train, pockets a sheaf of bills from the suitcase, and tries to hide in an otherwise empty car. However, both Carol and McCoy manage to get on the same train, and McCoy finds and kills the con artist shortly after the train leaves the station.

McCoy and Carol are able to get off the train without arousing suspicion, and after they carjack a vehicle (killing the driver in the process), they decide they can just find another train to get them to California. However, the con artist's body is discovered, and when it's discovered that the sheaf of bills in his pocket came from the robbed bank, the authorities conclude that McCoy and Carol were responsible. A police bulletin is broadcast, forcing McCoy and Carol to change plans once again.

Meanwhile, Rudy compels a rural veterinarian named Harold Clinton to treat and bandage his wound. Upon learning that his bandages will need to be changed a few times every day, Rudy forces Harold and his wife Fran to come with him to California so Harold can keep treating him. Harold is reluctant, but Fran is charmed by Rudy's brutish nature. She insists and prevails upon the mild-mannered Harold, who closes down his practice so the three can leave. Knowing that (thanks to the police bulletin) McCoy and Carol will need to move quietly and slowly, Rudy takes the trip slowly and begins to sleep with Fran at night. Fran eagerly consents, and though Harold sleeps in the same bed as the other two, he cannot bring himself to do anything about his wife's infidelity. He soon kills himself in despair, at which point Rudy begins beating Fran, but she continues to love and slavishly obey him.

McCoy and Carol encounter a migrant family and pay them a small fee to travel in the bed of their truck. The journey is slow and monotonous, but McCoy finds that he is enjoying himself more than he would have expected. After several days they arrive in California and make their way to the tourist court, where they are ambushed by Rudy and Fran. McCoy manages to shoot and kill both of them but the noise of their struggle alerts others, and though he and Carol carjack a taxi, the taxi driver is able to radio his dispatch to explain where he is and what's going on. McCoy and Carol throw the driver out of the moving taxi and rush for the border but cannot get ahead of the police. Just before they reach a police barricade, though, McCoy spots Ma Santis on the side of the road. He drives towards her and she leads him to her hidden refuge.

Santis agrees to get McCoy and Carol across the Mexican border and to El Rey's kingdom, but says it will take time because of the police presence. She has the two of them hide in partially-submerged caves for two days while she sets up their passage; Carol has a panic attack after just a few minutes of lying in the dark, cramped confines, but ultimately survives. Santis then has her son Earl take the duo to his farm while he conducts further negotiations with the captain of a fishing boat; McCoy and Carol are forced to wait inside a disgusting hollowed-out pile of manure for three days while this occurs. Earl finally secures the duo passage and the two are smuggled into the fishing boat. As the boat leaves American waters, a Coast Guard cutter stops it, but McCoy and Carol shoot and kill the three naval officers before they are discovered.

McCoy and Carol finally reach the kingdom of El Rey, which is indeed a sanctuary where criminals can live openly without fear of being extradited or arrested. However, the supposed paradise proves to be much more expensive than anticipated. Everything for sale in the kingdom of El Rey is a luxury or first-class good, and while these items are priced reasonably for what they are, they are still expensive. Furthermore, all of the criminals are required to spend a certain amount of money per month, under penalty of incurring stiff fines. This means that, no matter how wealthy a criminal is upon arriving in El Rey or how willing they are to economize, he or she quickly starts to run out of money. Finally, when a criminal inevitably goes broke, he or she is banished to an outlying village with no food or drink. Residents of that village have no choice but to either starve, commit suicide, or resort to cannibalism in order to stay alive. With this as a consequence for destitution, most of the criminals are terrified of being the victim of an 'accident' or 'suicide' staged by other criminals or even their own loved ones trying to steal their money. Consequently, the fancy accommodations the criminals are forced to pay for go mostly unused while the criminals hide in the luxury villas that they cannot properly afford.

During the annual ball, the one night every year in which El Rey hosts a big party in his palace and disallows any 'suicides' or 'accidents,' McCoy reflects on his own misery and despair. He still loves Carol but knows that he must kill her in order to obtain sole ownership of their joint wealth in order to have any chance of staying out of the cannibal village. He wanders through El Rey's palace and comes across Dr. Vonderschied, but when he tries to convince Vonderschied to convince Carol to have some kind of surgery and then kill her during the process, Vonderschied refuses to help him because of his friendship with Rudy. Vonderschied denounces both Carol and McCoy for squandering their many talents and luck in pursuit of a monstrously bloody life of crime, and then reveals that Carol has also tried to hire him to kill McCoy, and he refused her as well. Vonderschied directs McCoy to a concealed corner of the room where Carol was hiding, then leaves. Carol and McCoy confront each other, and even as they acknowledge that they still love each other, neither denies that they will inevitably be forced to kill each other to avoid the cannibal village for a little while longer. As the clock strikes midnight, they sardonically toast to their 'successful getaway' from the bank robbery.


Much has been made of the symbolism of the last third of the book, in which the text transitions from a gritty crime thriller into a surreal and heavily allegorical drama. The caves that Ma Santis compels McCoy and Carol to hide in have been analogized to tombs or graves, the manure pile to rot and decomposition, and the boat ride to crossing the River Styx.[3] Additionally, El Rey itself is compared to Hell, as it described as a place where people "seem to live an eternity" and suffer immensely all the while.

Film adaptations[edit]

The novel has been adapted into films twice. The 1972 film version of The Getaway starred Steve McQueen and Ali MacGraw.[1] The 1994 film version of The Getaway starred Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger. In both films the surreal ending In the hellish domain of El Rey is discarded for a happy ending in which Doc and his wife ultimately escape to freedom.[2]


  1. ^ a b Canby, Vincent (December 20, 1972). "The Getaway (1972) Thief and Wife in 'Getaway'". The New York Times.
  2. ^ a b James, Caryn (February 11, 1994). "The Getaway (1994) Reviews/Film; In the Tire Tracks Of Another Sultry Pair".
  3. ^ Bentham, Abbey. "Let Us Prey: Cannibalism, Consumption, and Culture in Jim Thompson's 'The Getaway'".