by Jim Thompson
In 1920s Texas, a smart kid named Tommy Burwell is living the hobo life, looking for work. He gets a job laying a gas pipeline with his friend Four Trey and hundreds of other rough characters, when he falls for Carol, a girl who hangs around the camp. When suspicious things happen, Tommy begins to realize a crime is about to go down and tries to get Carol out of it.
The novel sets up a gritty, suspenseful atmosphere; the reader never knows who to trust. Thompson’s language is great, mixing slangy dialogue and descriptions of rough men and boozy fights with commentary on how the hoboes get exploited and mistreated by the company to save a few dollars. He paints a lucid picture of the work, back-breaking and dangerous, as well as the fights and drinking and the chow. His characters are so sympathetic and real that the Hollywood-style happy ending is easily forgiven.