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University at Buffalo Libraries

George Kelley Paperback & Pulp Fiction Collection

The Nothing Man

cover image By: Thompson, Jim (male)
Publisher: Dell Publishing Co., Inc. (Dell First Edition 22)
Place of Publication: New York, NY
Catalog #: Kelley Box 381: PS3539 .H6733 N675 1954
Contributor: J. Lukin


Era: 1940s Author as on Cover: Jim Thompson Geographic Locale: southern California town of "Pacific City" with a brief trip to Los Angeles Date of Publication: 1954  |  Original Date: 1954 Setting: urban; a newspaper office, a variety of shabby rural and borderline suburban homes Motives: shame, misogyny, murder

Plot Summary

Journalist Clinton Brown is an angry and fearful man: he is terrified that someone will discover and publicize the fact that he lost his penis in the war, and he imagines that the resulting shame and suspicion will be more than he can bear. So when his ex-wife begins to suspect the reason he divorced her, he can't trust her discretion -- he knocks her unconscious and sets her house on fire. When a voluptuous woman who's fallen in love with him discovers his injury, he throws her to a pack of starving dogs. And when a venal, spinsterish publisher hints that she's found clues to his guilt, he arranges for her to disappear. At least, that's his version of events. The local sheriff has other ideas and is determined to pursue them. But Clint wants to luxuriate in his guilt and prevent anyone else's taking the fall for crimes he knows he's committed. Unless it's his boss at the newspaper, the man who sent him into that minefield during the war and has felt burdened by a sense of responsibility for him ever since. Is Clint guilty of murder? Or would the worst punishment he could face be proof that he's innocent of what he claims to have done?

Major Characters

Lem Stukey adult male, pretty-boy looks, slicked-down black hair, spreading midriff, friendly, corrupt small town police chief

Clinton Brown "Brownie," adult male, six feet tall, handsome, journalist/copy editor/war veteran/poet

Tom Judge adult male, short, heavy-set, belligerent, impoverished and incompetent copy editor

Constance Wakefield adult female, middle-aged, rail-thin, oyster-eyed, proprietress of a vanity publishing house

Kay Randall adult female, gushily sentimental and dictatorial housewife who knows a thousand ways to cook with mayonnaise

Dave Randall "The Colonel," "Father," adult male, newspaper editor living a beleaguered life in the suburbs

Ellen Brown adult female, thick black hair, droopy behind, impulsive, suspected of prostitution

Deborah Chasen adult female, green eyes, coarse yellow hair, lightweight but imposing figure, wealthy and passionate but socially inept widow

Level of Violence

we are treated to the description of two beatings (using a whiskey bottle), three asphyxiations, the breaking of a neck, and the feeding of a body to a pack of starving dogs. The narrator describes these events with pride but avoids depicting them directly, in keeping with his ambivalent nature.


all characters are heterosexual. Sexual desire is depicted as natural: to exalt it romantically or conceal it prudishly is seen as contemptible. Desire can, however, promote extreme behavior: it's suggested that one character commits suicide upon discovering she can't have a sexual relationship with the man she loves, and another beats a woman for withholding the sex he feels he's been promised.

Gender Roles

the idea of a normative or acceptable role for a Jim Thompson character is laughable; no one has the remotest chance of living a decent life. The possibility of a happy-ever-after relationship between a man and a woman is idealized but forever out of reach, usually because there's a misogynist (like the narrator of this novel) going around killing the available women.


the novel is critical of the pecking-order in which poor whites (in this case, Eastern European) enforce laws to keep rich whites safe from blacks.

Alcohol/Drug Abuse

most of the sympathetic characters are heavy drinkers. The narrator is proud of his ability to function with a constant level of blood alcohol that would be lethal for most men.

Subject Headings

Journalists/ Murder/ Alcoholism/ Loneliness/ Sex problems

Psychological Elements

everyone with even a scintilla of conscience hates him- or herself. Some try to find rationales for coping; others are overtly self-destructive.