The Killer Inside Me
Original paperback cover
The story is told through the eyes of its protagonist, Lou Ford, a 29-year-old deputy sheriff in a small Texas town. Ford appears to be a regular, small-town cop leading an unremarkable existence; beneath this facade, however, he is a cunning, depraved sociopath with sadistic sexual tastes. Ford's main outlet for his dark urges is the relatively benign habit of deliberately needling people with clichés and platitudes despite their obvious boredom: "If there's anything worse than a bore," says Lou, "it's a corny bore."
Despite having a steady girlfriend, Ford falls into a sadomasochistic relationship with a prostitute named Joyce Lakeland. Ford describes their affair as unlocking "the sickness" that has plagued him since adolescence, when he sexually abused a little girl, a crime for which his elder foster brother Mike took the blame to spare Lou from prison. After serving a jail term, Mike died at a construction site. Lou blamed a local construction magnate for Mike's death, suspecting he was murdered.
To exact revenge, Lou and Joyce blackmail the construction magnate to avoid exposing his son's affair with Joyce. However, Lou double-crosses Joyce: He ferociously batters her, and shoots the construction magnate's son, hoping to make the crimes appear to be a lovers' spat gone wrong. Despite the savage beating, it's revealed that Joyce survives, albeit in a coma.
Ford builds a solid alibi and frames other people for the double homicide. However, to successfully frame others when the evidence starts to go against him, he has to commit additional murders. These only increase suspicion against him however, and his mask of sanity begins to crumble under the pressure.
In 1976, the novel was adapted into a film of the same title, directed by Burt Kennedy and starring Stacy Keach as Lou Ford and Tisha Sterling as Amy Stanton. A 2010 version written by John Curran, directed by Michael Winterbottom and starring Casey Affleck and Jessica Alba premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2010, and was released in theaters later that year.
In popular culture
The novel is referenced in the Dead Milkmen song "Sri Lanka Sex Hotel", on their 1988 LP, Beelzebubba. The song "The Killer Inside Me" by experimental hip-hop artist MC 900 Ft. Jesus is based on the novel.
Filmmaker Stanley Kubrick, who worked with Thompson on the script for the 1956 movie The Killing, praised the novel, stating that it was "probably the most chilling and believable first-person story of a criminally warped mind I have ever encountered."
Bruce Springsteen has stated that the idea for his 1995 song "My Best Was Never Good Enough" (on the album The Ghost of Tom Joad) came from this book, specifically Ford's penchant for speaking in cliches.
C. Namwali Serpell has outlined a phenomenological, postcritical reading of Jim Thompson’s The Killer Inside Me (1952) that exposes the limitations of purely ideological interpretations of the novel.
Lou Ford later appears in Thompson's novel Wild Town (1957). The Lou Ford character in Wild Town is a mirror image of the one in Killer Inside Me. In Wild Town Lou Ford is also a sheriff, he also plays the fool, and he is also smarter and more capable than anyone else in the small town although he keeps it well hidden. He also prefers, and is usually able, to manipulate events rather than directly intervene. However, whereas in Killer Lou Ford manipulates events to further his own greed and lust, in Wild Town he manipulates events to bring about justice, to help people, and even to play matchmaker.
- David Geffner (November–December 2009). "Soul of a Writer". Humanities.
- "Crime Novels: American Noir of the 1950s". The Library of America.
- Crime Novels: American Noir of the 1950s, by Literary Classics of the United States, Inc. 1997. New York: The Library of America. ISBN 1-883011-49-3
- "The Killer Inside Me". IFC Films.
- Serpell, C. Namwali (2017). "A Heap of Cliche". In Felski & Anker (ed.). A Heap of Cliche. Durham: Duke University Press. p. 154. ISBN 978-0-8223-7304-9.