The Grifters (novel)

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The Grifters
First edition
Author Jim Thompson
Country United States
Language English
Genre Crime novel
Publisher Regency Books
Publication date
Media type Print

The Grifters is a noir fiction novel by Jim Thompson, published in 1963.[1]


Roy Dillon is a 25-year-old con artist living in Los Angeles. At the start of the novel, he gets hit in the stomach with a baseball bat when a simple con goes wrong. He seems to be well but when Lilly - his mother - visits him for the first time in almost eight years, he starts to deteriorate. She calls for a doctor, who informs her that he is internally hemorrhaging. Roy is taken to hospital, where he begins to recover after several days.

While at the hospital, his mother meets Moira Langtry, the woman that Roy is currently involved with. They take an instant dislike to each other. Lilly hires a nurse, Carol Roberg, in the hope that Roy will give up Moira for Carol. Roy then leaves the hospital and stays at Lilly's apartment where Carol looks after him. Roy discovers that Carol was victim of a sexual experiment at Dacau. With this knowledge, but mostly because Roy does not want to associate with a person that represents Lilly, he breaks off his relationship with Carol.

In the meantime, Lilly is at the race track working for an organization headed by gangster Bobo Justus. He comes to meet her and he takes her back to his apartment. He proceeds to beat her for a serious mistake she made several months earlier. In the process, he badly burns the back of her hand. She goes back to her apartment where she has a fight with Roy, and tells him to give up the grift. Roy goes back to work for the day and meets his new boss Perk Kraggs who takes a liking to him. He offers him a job as a sales manager. Roy is unsure if he should take it or not.

Roy then goes away with Moira to La Jolla for the weekend. Her suspicions that he is a con man are confirmed when she sees him conning a group of people on the train. She tells him that they should work together but he refuses. She gets into a fury and he slaps her. He leaves, thinking that it is the end of the relationship.

He later decides to take the sales job and to quit grifting. He is then contacted by the police that his mother has committed suicide. He presumes that Moira killed her. However, when he goes out to see the body, he notices that the burn on her hand is not there. He realizes that the body is Moira's and that his mother is still alive.

In the meantime, his mother has broken into his apartment and is stealing all his money. He comes back and catches her in the act, and tells her that he won't let her take it for her own good; he wants her to quit grifting as well. She pleads with Roy to let her have the money, asking him what she should offer (and tempting him to recognize the incestuous urge he feels). She suggests he finish his drink, distracting him and providing the opportunity to hit him with her purse. This accidentally breaks the glass which cuts his neck, causing him to bleed to death. She briefly breaks down after realizing she has killed her own son, but regains her composure and takes the money.[2]

Principal Characters[edit]

Roy Dillon: A 25-year-old short con operator. He has a dysfunctional relationship with his mother. He didn't go to college, but left home when he was 18. He was taught how to con people by a man named Mintz.

Lilly Dillon: She was very young when she had Roy, and is therefore only thirty-nine. She was an inattentive, callous mother to Roy, and yet still feels that he owes her. She is on the long con. She often feels, especially at the end of the novel, that there is no way out of grifting for her.

Moira Langtry: She was involved with Roy and is involved in the long con. She doesn't get along with Roy's mother. She wants to team up with Roy, as she thinks that her successful career of grifting is nearly over as she is getting older.

Film Adaptation[edit]

In 1990, the novel was adapted into a film directed by Stephen Frears. John Cusack, Annette Bening and Anjelica Huston played the principal roles. It has a 90% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes out of 39 reviews.[3]


  1. ^ David Geffner (November–December 2009). "Soul of a Writer". Humanities. 
  2. ^
  3. ^ Rotten Tomatoes