I haven't read all of Jim Thompson's novels. Once I had read those recommended as his best, I stopped keeping a list titles. But when I saw this one in a bookstore, I grabbed it on a whim. I'm glad I did.
Mitch Corley, the hero of Texas by the Tail, is more relatable than many of Thompson's main characters. He's not a psychopath like Lou Ford in The Killer Inside Me; he isn't an assassin like Charley Bigger in Savage Night; he isn't a thief and murderer like Doc McCoy in The Getaway.
Mitch Corley is a professional gambler who knows how to make the dice do what he wants and is always happy to separate a fool from his money. Like several of Thompson's other heroes, he's trying to make a good life for himself and the woman he loves, despite his flaws.
What makes Texas by the Tail so surprising and satisfying is the narrative voice. "Texas" is not narrated in the first person as are the Thompson novels critics like best, Also, this omniscient narrator is more authoritative than those of After Dark My Sweet, and The Grifters, for instance,
In "Texas," the narrator occasionally takes a paragraph or two to describe the social character of the places where the action is set, Houston, Dallas and Fort Worth. He also editorializes on Mitch's dubious assumptions and decisions. The reader feels the author hovering over the action more than in other novels by Thompson.
Probably this is because "Texas" was written late in Thompson's career, 1965, when he had been writing for film and television for several years. His most productive years as a novelist, 1952 to 1955, were behind him. It is as if he returns to the novel, feeling free of the requirements of the paperback originals he had turned out at an astonishing rate (twelve books in three years).
Texas by the Tail reads more like a mainstream novel than those earlier books, though the dread of watching the hero make his way in a corrupt world is just as profound. This probably shouldn't be a reader's first novel by Thompson, but it is not to be missed.