A Swell-Looking Babe by Jim Thompson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This is a strange little novel. The first chapter really baits the hook and then the narrative wanders for 35 or so pages, where I was wondering ok what is the point of all this? - although it will all become important by the end of the book - and then blammo, we are headlong into a blackmail and hotel robbery scheme. So there are two main threads involving Dusty, our noir protagonist, who is a bellhop at a hotel. He is "taking care" of his father who is in ill health. As the novel progresses this thread goes from what appears to be filler material to the primary arc of the novel. And then there is the hotel robbery as Dusty gets involved with gangster Tug and Marcia, the "sweel-looking babe" of the title. The robbery thread has all kinds of twists and turns, appears to be the primary arc, but by the end is actually a side plot. The close third-person narrative gets all inside of Dusty's manic head and that is what gives the novel all of its forward energy. The robbery plot doesn't always make a whole lot of sense and at times it seemed like Thompson was making it up as he went along, as if he added in the robbery as filler for the story he really wanted to tell about Dusty's relationship with his father. The ending was a bit confusing, and even after reading it a dozen times I'm still not sure what happened.
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