The Pequod Review:
Pop. 1280 is by far Jim Thompson’s most consistent and memorable book, one that centers on a psychopathic homicidal sheriff (Nick Corey) whose aw-shucks demeanor conceals a vicious nihilism. But unlike Lou Ford (the sheriff in The Killer Inside Me), Nick Corey doesn’t even pretend to rationalize his actions. He knows what he is doing, he doesn’t try to hide behind mental illness, there is no Sickness — he just doesn’t care.
Corey reveals his philosophy when another character asks him whether circumstances can excuse immoral actions:
"Well . . . do you excuse a post for fittin’ a hole? Maybe there’s a nest of rabbits down in that hole, and the post will crush ’em. But is that the post’s fault, for fillin’ a gap it was made to fit?"
“But that’s not a fair analogy, Nick. You’re talking about inanimate objects.”
“Yeah?” I said. “So ain’t we all relatively inanimate, George? Just how much free will does any of us exercise? We got controls all along the line, our physical make-up, our mental make-up, our backgrounds; they’re all shapin’ us a certain way, fixin’ us up for a certain role in life, and George, we better play that role or fill that hole or any goddang way you want to put it or all hell is going to tumble out of the heavens and fall right down on top of us. We better do what we were made to do, or we’ll find it being done to us.”
There were the helpless little girls, cryin’ when their own daddies crawled into bed with ’em. There were the men beating their wives, the women screamin’ for mercy. There were the kids wettin’ in the beds from fear and nervousness, and their mothers dosin’ ’em with red pepper for punishment. There were the haggard faces, drained white from hookworm and blotched with scurvy. . . . I shuddered, thinking how wonderful was our Creator to create such downright hideous things in the world, so that something like murder didn’t seem at all bad by comparison.
In many ways, Pop. 1280 is the book Jim Thompson has been building towards his entire career — total bleakness with no sliver of redemption or comfort.