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University at Buffalo Libraries

George Kelley Paperback & Pulp Fiction Collection

The Criminal

cover image By: Thompson, Jim (male)
Publisher: Lion Books, Inc.
Place of Publication: New York, NY
Catalog #: Kelley Box 381: PS3539 H6733 .C74 1953
Contributor: R. Farrell


Era: 1950s Author as on Cover: Jim Thompson Geographic Locale: Kenton Hills; fictional suburb of a medium-sized city in the western U.S. Date of Publication: 1953  |  Original Date: 1953 Setting: suburban; the story revolves around primarily middle to upper-middle class characters, although elements of the lower social strata also play a role. Characters are primarily white, though race becomes a theme with the introduction of a Jewish lawyer and a black family that subsists on the outskirts of the city. Motives: ambiguous motive; most likely of a sexual nature. The crime is labeled as a rape and murder.

Plot Summary

Bob Talbert, a disaffected fifteen-year-old living with his parents in the suburbs of a western city, is charged with the murder of Josie Eddleman, a neighbor's flirtatious teenage daughter, after a local newspaper in pursuit of larger circulation pressures the district attorney in order to create a story. Without an alibi and placed at the scene of the crime by his own admission, Bob's fate rests with men whose motives are all self-interested -- a unionizing reporter in a tenuous job position, an alcoholic editor with an ailing wife, a publisher as interested in playing God as increasing sales, and an ambitious district attorney, concerned with saving face in the public eye. The attorney hired by the Talberts to defend their son has one recourse for establishing an alibi for Bob: the uncooperative, embittered Negro mother of a large family whose husband was unjustly killed in the South by a plantation owner over a money dispute.

Major Characters

Bob Talbert adolescent male; somewhat troubled fifteen year old who regularly skips school to caddy on the golf links. Described as an "overgrown young-un," Bob is going through puberty at the time of the novel's action.

Allen Talbert adult male; father of Bob Talbert, husband of Martha; works at Henley Terrazo and Tile Company attempting to sell tile to builders and contractors. As the tile market is weak, and he is an aging presence in the company, his job is not at all secure.

Martha Talbert adult female, neurotic suburban housewife

Josie Eddleman adolescent female; murder victim; sexually experienced, she seduces Bob Talbert when the two, independently skipping school, encounter each other in the hillside near their homes.

Donald Skysmith adult male; college graduate and early success: Rhodes Scholar, Guggenheim Fellow and Pulitzer Prize winner, now the editor of the Star, a medium-sized newspaper in a two newspaper town. Dependent on a job he does not respect and cannot quit due to his dying wife's medical bills, he turns to alcohol in order to perform a job he finds unethical.

The Captain adult male; shadowy, unseen and seemingly all-knowing William Randolph Hearst-like publisher of the Star; orchestrates the Star's railroading of young Bob.

William Willis adult male; newspaper reporter assigned to sensationalize the murder case. As no one in the newspaper will willingly write the article, Willis is more or less blackmailed to write the piece. As a union organizer, the Captain would like nothing more than for Willis to quit or be fired. If he refuses the assignment, the Star's management would have a legitmate reason to fire him, thus ending his unionizing activities.

Hargreave Clinton adult male; district attorney, easily swayed by public opinion, and therefore by the newspapers; politically ambitious.

I. Kossmeyer adult male; Jewish attorney hired by the Talberts; complex character who walks the line between honesty and corruption.

Pearlie May Jones adult female; African-American woman raising her family on a small piece of land on the outskirts of the city. Suspicious of whites after the murder of her sharecropping husband in the South by a white plantation owner, she is a possible alibi for Bob.



Level of Violence

apart from the murder, there is little physical violence depicted directly, though psychological violence of a sort factors heavily.


a central theme in the novel. Josie Eddleman is admittedly sexually experienced, has possibly been raped before, and possibly has an adult 'lover.' She and Bob Talbert have sex, though this is not directly depicted in the novel.She makes sport with Bob's naivete. Josie's mother Fay is also depicted as somewhat oversexed. Sex is presented as a potential source of danger and trouble.

Gender Roles

gender roles reflect the age in which the novel was written. Women are generally housewives, with too much free time and too much loneliness in their lives. Men are subordinate to their jobs.


a somewhat recurring theme; the Jewish lawyer, the Negro mother, a Chinese waiter are all subject to some form of racism. The ethnic characters are overt depictions of the servile nature that all of the characters exhibit top a degree. Their actions are determined by economic necessity; they are quasi-slaves who embody the slave-like attitudes of all of the major characters - nearly everyone is a slave to money in one way or another.

Alcohol/Drug Abuse

alcohol plays a role in the life of Donald Skysmith. It is his means of negating himself -- of escaping from the self he no longer recognizes as his true self.

Law Enforcement

the police who run the jail and are in charge of supervising Bob while he is in custody are bought off by both the D.A. and by Kossmeyer, the former in order to coerce a confession out of Bob without witnesses, the latter in order to get information about the D.A.'s tactics. Like the other characters in the novel, they are simultaneously inhuman and human: corruptible when it comes to money and self-interest, but with a conscience that sometimes compels them to kindness.

Added Features

money seems to be the root source of evil in the novel, causing people to treat others in an inhuman way and causing themselves to ignore their own humanity. Thompson uses a quotation from Shakespeare as an epigram: "There is thy gold, worse poison to men's souls, Doing more murder in this loathsome world, Than these poor compounds that thou mayst not sell. I sell thee poison, thou has sold me none." (Romeo and Juliet, Act V, Scene 1).

Subject Headings

Murder/ Newspapers/ District Attorney/ Adolescents

Psychological Elements

fear and selfishness are the two central psychological motives.