IN THE 1950s, when Barry Gifford was a 12-year-old in Tampa, Fla., he was an inveterate reader of the 25-cent mysteries in such paperback original series as Fawcett Gold Medal, Dell First Editions and Lion Books. One day he picked up a paperback called The Killer Inside Me, by Jim Thompson. "For the first time, I realized there was something very intelligent going on in some of these books," he said.

Gifford moved on to Chicago, entered the University of Missouri on a baseball scholarship, dropped out after a year, and took off for Europe, working as a seaman and rock 'n' roll musician. When he arrived in Paris on his European wanderings, he discovered a collection of mysteries published by Gallimard called the Serie Noire and once again found Jim Thompson, who was an immense favorite of the French reading public.

After a career as a newspaperman, burlesque actor and roustabout, Thompson became a screenwriter (among other films, he did Stanley Kubrick's Paths of Glory), while continuing to work as a novelist. In his books, he concentrated on down-and-out characters from America's underclass -- tramps, prostitutes and grifters leading brutal lives on the fringes of sanity. But in all of his books, the scene is also treated with a satirical eye -- Thompson's favorite writer was Jonathan Swift. Thompson died in 1977, having published 29 novels.

Back from Europe and a writer himself, Gifford moved to the West Coast and with Donald S. Ellis founded a small publishing company in Berkeley, Calif., called Creative Arts. He was intrigued with the idea of doing something to match the Serie Noire and to revive writers like Jim Thompson who had given him so much pleasure in his youth.

So in 1984, Creative Arts launched Black Lizard Books, dedicated to crime fiction in the tradition of those paperback originals of the 1950s. Gifford struck a deal with Jim Thompson's estate and purchased the right to 13 of his books -- "the best of them," he says -- including titles such as The Alcoholics, The Criminal, The Getaway, Pop. 1280, A Swell-Looking Babe and After Dark, My Sweet.

Illustrator Jim Kirwan provided the books with a series of fashionably lurid covers, perhaps more reminiscent of 1940s pulp magazines than 1950s novels, and the series was launched. The design concept, formulated by Don Ellis, is to make Black Lizard Books instantly identifiable on bookstore shelves, much as Penguin Books once were.

The line has proven a big success for Creative Arts. Its catalogue now lists 31 books. In addition to Thompson, authors include David Goodis (another French favorite), Harry Whittington, Charles Willeford, Robert Edmond Alter, W.L. Heath and Barry Gifford himself, who has contributed a book with the marvelously roman noir title Port Tropique. There is also a new collection of stories in the nitty-gritty tradition called The Black Lizard Anthology of Crime Fiction, edited by Edward Gorman.

Meanwhile, back on the East Coast, there are other developments in the Jim Thompson story. New York publisher Donald I. Fine, who originally edited Thompson for Dell First Editions in the 1950s, is bringing out other titles in hardback. He issued a collection of three Thompson novels last year in a volume called Hardcore. The upcoming More Hardcore contains another three Thompson novels. Fine is also planning Fireworks: The Lost Writing of Jim Thompson, which includes his nonfiction crime writing as well as short novels.

Freud's Text

YALE UNIVERSITY Press has just released a revised edition of Freud as a Writer, by Patrick J. Mahony, professor of English at the University of Montreal. A practicing psychoanalyst as well as a teacher, Mahony is one of a small group of scholars taking a long, critical look at the texts of Freud's writings. Mahony contends that not enough attention has been paid to Freud's strategies as a writer. One result of this neglect, he maintains, is "that the analytic community has been blinded by Freud's rhetoric" and has failed to hold Freud to rigorous standards of empirical proof.

In addition to Freud as a Writer, originally published in 1982, Mahony has made his arguments in studies of two famous Freud cases, Cries of the Wolf Man (1984) and Freud and the Rat Man (1986), also published by Yale. In addition, a collection of his essays, Psychoanalysis and Discourse was published by Methuen in March.

A graduate of Iona College in New Rochelle, N.Y. (hitherto known mainly as the alma mater of former Bullets' center Jeff Ruland), Mahony took a doctorate in English in the early 1960s at New York University, at a time when such luminaries as Leon Edel and Gay Wilson Allen were in the department there. He was in France from 1961 to 1963, first as a student at the Sorbonne and later as a Fulbright teacher of American civilization and literature at the University of Aix-en-Provence. In 1963, he joined the English department at the University of Montreal, the city's major French-speaking university. After undergoing training at the Canadian Institute of Psychoanalysis, he began analytic practice in 1978.

In his writings, Mahony frequently attacks the standard English-language translations from Freud's German by James Strachey. "Strachey," says Mahony, "actually declares that he is aiming his translation at a an educated Englishman of the mid-19th century. What you get in his translations is a text full of Greek and Latin neologisms -- a scrubbed and laundered Freud acceptable to a Victorian world.

"This distancing from Freud is just one example of the failure to confront exactly what he said. The empirical core of Freud's work is in the dream analysis and the case histories. But when you look at that work closely, you realize he often resorts to rhetoric to mask the fact he isn't proving anything. And his analyses sometimes tell more about his own fantasies than the patient's condition. In discussions of Freud, you have on the one hand people who are simply hostile, who see nothing in him. On the other hand are the guardians who will allow no criticism at all. I want to modify the guardians' idealization so that a balanced portrait can be achieved."

Mahony's next project is a study of Freud's famous Dora case and his other case histories of women. He expects to complete it in three years.

Lanham Publisher

THE FOLKS at Madison Books -- located in Lanham, Md. -- are oohing and ahing about the firm's upcoming fall list, which is led by First Lady, Public Wife, by James S. Rosebush, Nancy Reagan's longtime chief of staff. It will be published in October. The book traces the role of the president's wife from the early republic to the present, and tells how Nancy Reagan has interpreted her function.

Also on the Madison list, to appear in September, is The Second Victory: The Marshall Plan and the Postwar Revival of Europe, by Robert J. Donovan, the veteran newspaperman and author of a two-volume work on the presidency of Harry S. Truman. The 128-page, large-format book will have 100 photographs.

Thomas Jefferson: A Strange Case of Mistaken Identity, by Alf J. Mapp Jr. of Old Dominion State University, published by Madison Books, was selected as an alternate by Book-of-the-Month Club in May. The 512-page biography traces Jefferson's life from his birth in 1743 to his inauguration as president in 1801.

Madison Books is the trade book subsidiary of the University Press of America (UPA). Arthur Levitt Jr., chairman of the American Stock Exchange and Levitt Communications Inc., has recently acquired a major interest in UPA. Both he and James K. Glassman, president of Levitt Communications, have joined the UPA board.

Healthy Health

THE NUMBER of books in the medical and health-care fields has been growing by leaps and bounds. All the scoop is contained in the latest issue of Medical and Health Care Books and Serials in Print 1987, published by Bowker. (A "serial" is publishing and library jargon for periodical.)

More than 6,000 new medical and health-care books have been added since the 1986 edition, bringing the total of books in print in the field to 61,179. Some 3,300 publishers can bear responsibility for that total. In addition, there are a mind-boggling 11,516 U.S. and foreign journals in the field, of which 741 are new. And you want your kid to be a doctor! ::