Ross Thomas: Crime Writer
Ross Thomas: Author And Books Reviewed
Ross Thomas was one of the great stylists of the thriller genre. He never wrote a bad book and I believe he never wrote a bad sentence. Con men, spies, crooked politicians, all feature strongly in his books and there's humour and cynicism in his work.
Out of print for a time after his death in 1995, his books are now enjoying a welcome resurgence. On this page I pay a brief tribute to Ross Thomas and review some of his books, I've enjoyed them, I hope you will too.
Image credit: Ross Thomas, courtesy of Amazon
Stylish And Elegant Prose
Cold war heavies, Mafia thugs, conmen and crooks, Philippine guerillas and Singapore spies -- you'll find the lot somewhere in Ross Thomas's work. He makes easy work of complicated plots through his elegant style and perfect prose. He can evoke periods and places with a few deft sentences; actually, all his sentences are deft. Fans of crime and spy novels will love him, fans of good writing will want more.
It's difficult to compare him with any other writers. For evocation of the Cold War and its aftermath he's on a par with John Le Carré but with a lighter touch and much humour. For thrillers he's pretty unique. (And pretty effective.)
In his lifetime he wrote twenty five novels under his own name Some feature recurring characters, but the order you read his books in doesn't matter - he handles back references simply and stylishly.
Could my mother/the vicar/whoever read these? Yes, although written for adults the blood is not gory and the few sex scenes not embarrassing, Any fan of good writing will welcome a Ross Thomas as a present.
For more info and reviews of several novels, see Paul On Books: Ross Thomas
Book Review: Missionary Stew
"He flew into Paris, the city of his birth, on a cold wet November afternoon. He flew in from Equatorial Africa wearing green polyester pants, a white T-shirt that posed the suspect question HAVE YOU EATEN YOUR HONEY TODAY? and a machine-knitted cardigan whose colour, he had finally decided, was mauve."
Morgan Citron has just been released after 13 months in a hellhole of an African jail, kept alive by bribing guards, forced to eat what he was told was monkey (remember, this book is called Missionary Stew ...). Our hero is on his way back to the States. Looking for a quiet if impecunious life he is subtly dragged into a mix of US political chicanery and wrongdoing in South America, with cocaine and murder to spice things up.
Set against a framework of politicians jockeying for position in a future race for the presidency, ranging from murders in a Florida condo to Latin revolution, this is a typical Ross Thomas novel. The writing is elegant as ever, every word carefully chosen and anything that doesn't lend to the fun omitted. If you haven't read any of Thomas's books yet, grab this -- it's a great introduction. If you are familiar with him, grab this, it's an excellent continuation.
Book Review: Twilight At Mac's Place
The famous bar has long ago moved from West Germany to Washington but Mac and Padillo are ready as ever to help the good guys in this tale of old spies, dead spies and old, cold spies.
Ex CIA agent Steadfast Haynes has popped his clogs, leaving behind a potentially explosive set of memoirs. Decades of action abroad would have given him more material than Wikileaks could handle so the risk for the US government, and especially for certain smug aristocrats of the secret world, is enormous. Estranged son Granville has been bequeathed the memoirs - before the body's cold the bad guys are wondering whether to kill him or bribe him (if they can't just steal the document).
Old fixer Tinker Burns turns up at the funeral and takes Granville to Mac's Place and introduces him to part-owner Padillo.
"What made Padilllo so strangely familiar to Haynes were his eyes. Not their colour, which on Haynes' private chart was coded as Gray-Green #1, but rather their look of semi-devout fatalism. This look, he believed, was acquired only by those who at some risk have peered into the human abyss and aren't at all reassured by what they've seen."
Involve Michael Padillo and you get Mac McCorkle. In Washington you also get another of Thomas's recurring characters, Howard Mott - the cynical, pragmatic but honest lawyer (a rare breed in Thomas's world). In this case you also get Mac's daughter Erika to season the mix. And we have another perfectly styled, perfectly paced thriller from Ross Thomas. (Note: I'm deliberately trying not to use the word "elegant" here -- but it's definitely apt as ever to Thomas's writing.)
Read this if you want a well-paced thriller, written intelligently but accessibly. Don't worry if you haven't read any of the other books involving Mac's Place -- a couple of Thomas's deft pen pictures and you know what you need to know about the characters.
Book Review: Yellow-Dog Contract
"I never thought about killing myself," Murfin said and I believed him. He doubtless lumped suicide with devil worship, witchcraft, animal s***my, group therapy and other wicked pursuits that he felt to be crimes against both man and nature."
Ross Thomas moves into the murky world of corrupt union officials and political fixers in Yellow-Dog Contract, set in the USA shortly before the 1976 Presidential election. A union leader is missing, presumed dead. A millionaire with a taste for conspiracy theories hires Harvey Longmire to investigate. Longmire was once a Young Turk in both union and political worlds, now he raises goats and writes verses for greetings cards. Now he's plunged back into a world of corruption, lies and murder.
This novel is at odds with most of Thomas's work - it's rougher and cruder in tone and style, and reads more like a work from the Fifties than the Seventies. Nonetheless it moves at a good pace and paints finely drawn pictures of the characters: from Longmire's dope-smoking, loose-living sister to the union officials with class prejudices and ill-fitting expensive suits. These last are themselves corrupt but only venally so - they've betrayed their principles for large offices and big pensions.
Ross Thomas fans will enjoy this. Newcomers to his work should also like it but need to know it's not his best - not only rougher but in some ways slighter and without the usual humour.