by Jim Thompson
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The Grifters is the story of Roy Dillon, a small time con man in Los Angeles and about the dysfunctional relationships he has with both his mother, who – until this novel – he hasn’t seen in 8 years and his girlfriend Moira.
Moira is supposedly unaware of Roy’s real occupation, he is posing as a very successful salesman. This allows him to travel the country with a tangible cover as he explains that trying to “grift” in one place too long isn’t a good idea, even in a big city like Los Angeles.
When we meet Roy he has been caught out while trying to con someone with a trick known as The Twenties. This involves the Grifter purchasing a small item and handing over a twenty dollar note. When he receives the change for the twenty, he will surprisingly discover he has the change for the item after all and requests his twenty dollar note back. If he is lucky, the shopkeeper won’t be paying attention and will accept the small amount of money, returning the twenty and not noticing that the grifter has already pocketed the change. In this case, Roy was not so lucky and receives a baseball bat in the stomach as a reward.
This brings us to the visit of Roy’s mother Lilly. Lilly had Roy when she was very young, and is in fact in the Grifting business herself. When she comes to his hotel room, she notices that he doesn’t seem well and after calling for a doctor it is discovered that he is bleeding internally, and is rushed to hospital. Here Moira and Lilly meet for the first time, and both being powerful and strong women, instantly dislike each other. Lilly attempts to set Roy up with a young nurse by hiring her to aid his recuperation after he leaves hospital. And so their lives all begin to intertwine.
I really enjoyed reading The Grifters. I loved the style of writing, as it invokes a real mobster atmosphere. The characters were all very strong individuals, Moira and Lilly more so than Roy as they try to compete for his affections.
Roy himself is extremely clever and has had to be to keep his double life going for so long, in fact he is so successful at his pretence at being a salesman, that at one stage he gets offered a huge promotion, which would involve staying in Los Angeles. At this point he does seriously consider giving up the grift and taking up an honest occupation.
Saying that he also has a harshness about him when it comes to women. For example, he makes it clear that he doesn’t want anything to do with his mother, however this probably stems from the fact that she was so young when she had him that he just seemed to be in her way, and an inconvenience, and so he ended up leaving home at just 18. As for Moira, she seems to want to settle down with him and he has no intention of doing so. She is there purely for the cover and some fun for him.
I flew through this book, (it is quite short) but I was glued to it all the same. Looking forward to watching the movie now to see how it was adapted to the screen.
A 1990 film was made starring John Cusack, Angelica Huston and directed by Stephen Frears.