“The Grifters” by Jim Thompson

“The Grifters” by Jim Thompson   (1963)  –  187 pages

    “Roy Dillon lived in a hotel called the Grosvenor-Carlton, a name which hinted at a grandeur that was wholly non-existent.”

You go up to a clerk who is real busy, distracted with a lot of other customers.  You buy something small like a pack of gum or a candy bar.  You fumble in your pockets trying to find the exact change while the clerk is waiting for you, and the other customers are clamoring for his help.  You finally give up and hand him a twenty.  The clerk lays your change on the counter, and goes off to help the other impatient customers.  You discreetly pick up the money and keep fumbling for change.  You find the change and interrupt the clerk while he is dealing with another customer.  You say, ‘I found it.  Just  give me back my twenty, and I’ll give you the exact change.’  The clerk gives you back the twenty, you give the clerk the exact change, and you leave. 

This is known as ‘the twenties’ which is a short con.  Does it work?  Yeah, if the clerk is distracted enough.   Of course if you do it enough times, one of your victims might beat your stomach in with a baseball bat which is what happens to our ‘hero’ in “The Grifters”.

The only experience I have had which is at all similar to the above was when I went into a bakery, a place I had never been in before, picked out a pastry and handed the woman clerk a twenty.  She said, “Sir, I’m afraid that I don’t have change for a twenty.  There’s a bank two doors down where they’ll change your twenty for you. “ I said, “OK” and started to leave.  Then the woman clerk said, “While you’re there would you mind getting me some change too?”  She hands me two twenties from the register.  What a trusting soul!  I had never seen this clerk before.  I took the two twenties she handed me, went off to the bank, got the change for her twenties and my twenty, and, honest person that I am, returned to the bakery.

What with credit and debit cards and so on, I don’t know how many con artists are working out there today.  There doesn’t seem to be too much room for the small time con artist any more.  The only con artists most of us encounter today are realtors, and there the cons are usually long cons rather than short cons.    

Jim Thompson was a hard-boiled crime fiction writer.  “The Grifters” was one of three of his novels that were made into movies.    This is not the type of fiction I usually read, but I’ve heard a lot of good things about Jim Thompson.  I must say I enjoyed this book.  It had enough turns and twists to keep me interested.  Even a lot of the sentences had twists and turns in them like the first sentence in this blog above.  Jim Thompson’s style has a lot of no-nonsense energy.  The sentences are short without much decoration.  Subject, verb, object, next sentence.   For me, it was a refreshing change from the many literary novels I read.  I like to read many different types of fiction.  I won’t restrict myself to crime fiction going forward, but I’ll come back to Jim Thompson when I want that sort of break.  I’ve read Dashiell Hammett, James Cain, Raymond Chandler, tough guys all.    

Somewhere I read that the average bartender takes enough from the bar to make his car payments.  In bars selling liquor and other consumables, there really is no good way to prevent some of the cash from walking away.  So all a bar owner can do is try to keep a lid on things.  So the bar owner will only hire bartenders who drive modest cars where the payments aren’t so high.  But if that bartender trades in his modest car for a fancy sports car or an SUV, watch out!

That’s the kind of thinking that goes on in a Jim Thompson book.


2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by academama on June 2, 2010 at 12:30 PM

    I enjoyed “The Grifters,” too. “The Killer Inside Me,” not so much.


  2. Hi Academama,
    Thank You! I was afraid I wasn’t going to get any comments for this post. For some reason my regular readers did not have much interest in this post. “The Grifters” was a nice change of pace for me. I’ll probably watch the movie soon.


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