The Vengeance Man by Dan J. Marlowe
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Jim Wilson, our first person narrator, is a sociopath, but he is not pretending to be a rube as the sociopathic narrators in Jim Thompson novels do. As the novel begins he is waiting for a private detective to call and tell him in which hotel and room he can find his cheating wife. Then he carefully sets it up to look like a crime of passion before going to the hotel and killing her in cold blood. Then he tells us how he is going to beat the rap at the inquest, and he does. And then he takes revenge on the cop who beat him during the interrogation by breaking his shins and making him crawl out of the swamp to save his life. That out of the way, he sets in motion a plan to ruthlessly take over as the power broker in the small South Carolina town where he lives, but with ambitions to expand his power base from there using is road construction business as the platform to take control of the county and more. To Wilson, everyone is an object to be remorselessly manipulated to achieve his goals. And Marlowe knocks it out of the park with this portrait of a small town corruption, and especially with the sociopathic personalities - and Wilson is not the only one; Marlowe adroitly provides him several sociopathic foils. Although Marlowe dishes out a bunch of incendiary 5-star scenes, the plot at times reads a bit made up as it goes, with back story suddenly interrupting the flow to help make sense of some of the action. Although that is not much of a distraction in this Gold Medal paperback noir classic.