Title: The Getaway
Rating: 4 Stars
Jim Thompson is a strange writer. He wrote in such a conventional space: pulp crime fiction. It’s a genre where you were paid like a penny a word or some such ridiculous amount. You were not rewarded for creativity or uniqueness; it was all about quantity of output. I’m reminded of L. Ron Hubbard when he first started out. He was paid some similar pittance. He sat at his typewriter and just pounded out hundreds of science fiction novels, most of which are completely ignored today.
Thompson was different. His stories definitely fit his selected genre. They were quick paced, ultra violent, and featured amoral characters with a brutally realist nihilistic world view. They were relatively short books that he could pound out in about a month.
Within that genre, he stands apart. Killer Inside Me is the the story of a monstrous serial killer told in the first person by the killer himself. He narrates literally to his death.The Grifters has a pretty overt incestuous theme running throughout it.
The Getaway is equal to those in originality. The novel starts off conventionally. There is a criminal mastermind, Doc, recently paroled, who organizes a bank robbery. He partner, Rudy, does the heavy lifting. Doc’s wife, Carol, is responsible for the getaway.
In the aftermath of the successful robbery, there is a cross and a double cross. Doc shoots Rudy, leaving him apparently dead, and Doc makes his escape with Carol.
They are trying to make it to Mexico. However, the police is hot on their trail. Unbeknownst to them, Rudy is not dead. He is also trying to hunt them down.
As they crisscross the country they encounter various tight situations. Doc, always cool under pressure and willing to take desperate violent action, saves them repeatedly. There is a final shootout where Roy ends up truly dead.
At this point, the novel takes a turn for the weird.
They can no longer escape on their own. A local crime matriarch, Ma Santis, flags them down and offers to help. They end up hiding in a claustrophobic stone cave and later, in a dung heap. Finally, they get on a boat, and after another violent encounter, end up in Mexico.
There they stay at a place known as the Kingdom of El Rey. They stay at a first class accommodation and pay first class prices. The deal with El Rey is that everyone can stay as long as they can pay. Once the money is gone, then El Rey exiles you to a guarded town where no food is allowed in. The inhabitants of the town survive by cannibalism. Since no one has infinite money, the fate for pretty much everyone in El Rey is suicide, murder, or to descend into cannibalism and ultimately become food for the remaining cannibals.
When a couple comes to El Rey, ultimately one or the other arranges for the other to be killed so that the survivor can last longer. By the end of the novel both Doc and Carol have tried to kill each other and have failed. They grimly await their fate.
The ending is completely different in spirit from the rest of the book. I read an interestingly analysis where when Doc and Carol were hiding in the small stone cave, that was their grave. When they were in the dung heap, surrounded by flies and worms, that was their bodies decomposing. When they were on the boat, that was them crossing the river Styx. I would guess that would mean El Rey is their ultimate descent to hell.
It’s interesting and I can almost buy it. Regardless, this is another case of a Thompson pulp fiction work that has managed to outlive similar genre works by decades.