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The Golden Gizmo Paperback – May 26, 1998
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From Library Journal
Another of Thompson's autobiographical titles and supposedly true, fans know that half of this is inseparable from his crime writings. Whether fact or fiction, this 1954 title makes for fun reading. Also look for Thompson's novel The Golden Gizmo (ISBN 0-375-70032-3), now also available from Vintage.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
About the Author
(1906 - 1977) James Meyers Thompson was born in Anadarko, Oklahoma. He began writing fiction at a very young age, selling his first story to True Detective when he was only fourteen. Thompson eventually wrote twenty-nine novels, all but three of which were published as paperback originals. Thompson also wrote two screenplays (for the Stanley Kubrick films “The Killing” and “Paths of Glory”). An outstanding crime writer, the world of his fiction is rife with violence and corruption. In examining the underbelly of human experience and American society in particular, Thompson’s work at its best is both philosophical and experimental. Several of his novels have been filmed by American and French directors, resulting in classic noir including The Killer Inside Me (1952), After Dark My Sweet (1955), and The Grifters (1963).
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Toddy Kent is a scam artist who is working door to door buying gold from unsuspecting people, the point being that he buys it low and then sells high. He is fortunate to have the fat and jolly gold buyer who helps him in his scams by buying the gold off him. Toddy's wife is a real handful to be around and no matter how much he tries, she gets into trouble.
One day Toddy knocks on the door of a strange house and the adventure starts.
Murder, betrayal, crime and at points lunacy abound in this book by the 1950's crime writer Jim Thompson.
At times it is not easy to understand and dialogue is very much not Thompson's forte but creating a story of interest and of something totally different is what made Thompson a cult favourite amongst readers.
How is the book? If you bear in mind the dodgy dialogue and sometimes confused ramblings, it is quite a good novel. Only 185 pages long so it is a quick read.
The story concerns one Todd(y) Kent, a door-to-door buyer of gold. The secondhand gold market in 1954 is one of pure buy-low/sell-high, to the extent that buyers and (later) sellers were seen as borderline criminals (at best). Gold could not be transported across national lines because of the vast disparities in value in different countries. Hence: a buoyant smuggling opportunity.
Toddy buys for a middleman named Milt and makes a decent living, considering the fact that his dodgy wife, Elaine, is lost within her bourbon bottle and has a tendency to do wildly dysfunctional and unpredictable things. Two events put the plot into second gear. First, Toddy innocently approaches a house with a Mexican owner of a talking dog. Not Francis-the-talking-mule talking, but rather a humongous Doberman that mimics the words (especially the swear words) that come from its owner. At Alvarado’s (the Mexican’s) house Toddy sees a watch that weighs a pound. He considers it to be a smuggler’s vehicle for transporting pure gold into other countries and during a heated moment, including a contretemps with the talking Doberman, the watch slips into his salesman’s box.
This precipitates the second event which involves (Toddy thinks), the murder of his wife and the theft of the watch. The rest of the story (with trips to both San Diego and Tijuana) involves his jockeying for position (and survival) between Alvarado and the individual to whom Alvarado reports in their international gold operation. He is helped in this process (he believes) by a Latina woman named Dolores, a woman who could prove to be a lovely substitute for the duplicitous and crazy Elaine.
In attempting to extricate himself from a series of mortal dilemmas, Toddy will rely on what we would call his mojo (and what the novel calls his gizmo). I would describe the story as a romp, a wild ride, a bit of craziness concocted by a master story teller. Don’t be put off by the negative reviews. Give it a shot. The ending is very satisfying.
The main character, Todd Kent, is an early incarnation of Roy Dillon, the young L.A. con artist Thompson so masterfully brought to life in The Grifters. But that's where any similarity between the two novels begins and ends.
The Golden Gizmo is a real clunker. Sometimes even great writers like Jim Thompson will step up to the plate and strike out. Not recommended.