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Ross Thomas: Crime Writer

Updated on September 25, 2014

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

CIA map of Singapore
CIA map of Singapore

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

Ross Thomas Missionary Stew Review
Ross Thomas Missionary Stew Review

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.

ross thomas book review twilight at macs place
ross thomas book review twilight at macs place

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.

yellow dog contract review
yellow dog contract review

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.

Peter Thorpe Cover Designs -

Click thumbnail to view full-size
"The Ross Thomas series was an easy one for me, originally I wanted to have a wide landscape one each title, with an icon image in the center, somewhat like I did on the forthcoming Mary Daheim cover for Random House .  But the art director for the R
"The Ross Thomas series was an easy one for me, originally I wanted to have a wide landscape one each title, with an icon image in the center, somewhat like I did on the forthcoming Mary Daheim cover for Random House .  But the art director for the R
"The Ross Thomas series was an easy one for me, originally I wanted to have a wide landscape one each title, with an icon image in the center, somewhat like I did on the forthcoming Mary Daheim cover for Random House . But the art director for the R

Anyone read any Ross Thomas? - Did you like him?

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    • annieangel1 profile image


      4 years ago from Yorkshire, England

      I haven't heard of him before but off to the library to seek him out

    • paperfacets profile image

      Sherry Venegas 

      5 years ago from La Verne, CA

      Every word chosen to work is a writer I like. I am going to try one of these.

    • Lady Lorelei profile image

      Lorelei Cohen 

      5 years ago from Canada

      I don't read to often anymore other than on the internet so am really not to savvy when it comes to knowing the popular writers of today. Ross Thomas certainly seems to have his path defined within his chosen path.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      I started reading The Cold War Swap. A great book!

    • flycatcherrr profile image


      5 years ago

      I don't think I've run across Ross Thomas' books before, but always up for an introduction to a good writer of crime fiction. The best books for cosy wintertime reading are those where interesting characters are plunged into sittuations of danger and suspense!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I love a good crime book, so he'll be on my list next time I have some dimes to spend on ( doesn't sell Kindle books outside UK-but I still manage to get some now and then:)

    • LisaAuch1 profile image

      Lisa Auch 

      6 years ago from Scotland

      No I haven't, yet and I do like the fact he has 25 books but you do not need to read them in order, I like to choose by title. I have decided this year to find myself new books to read, I do love going to the second had thrift shops and browsing, I usually read a book every 2 days or so (late night reader!) But I am looking for some new authors to read.

    • Pam Irie profile image

      Pam Irie 

      6 years ago from Land of Aloha

      Not yet, but I do enjoy this genre. Excellent reviews!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I've seen them on shelves, and now I will give them a try.. thanks

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I haven't heard of this author either, but your reviews make them tempting to read.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Ross Thomas is also new to me . I love this genre and will certainly be looking to buy. Thank you

    • Richard-H profile image


      6 years ago from Surrey, United Kingdom

      Ross Thomas is new to me, but I like a good crime thriller, so I will keep him in mind.

    • FanfrelucheHubs profile image

      Nathalie Roy 

      6 years ago from France (Canadian expat)

      Not familiar with Ross Thomas at all. I might give a try at Missionary Stew.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      also adding this one to my book reviews lens.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Read them all. Great writer. Left us some great books and characters.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      never heard of him..but I love crime series,be it TV drama or books so I might check it out at book-stores! *grin*

    • Stazjia profile image

      Carol Fisher 

      7 years ago from Warminster, Wiltshire, UK

      I'm going to look for his books now I've read your reviews.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Nice reviews. Haven't read any of his works before. Sounds interesting though!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Eww, Missionary Stew? I think I'll pass on that one. I've never heard of this author either.

    • OhMe profile image

      Nancy Tate Hellams 

      7 years ago from Pendleton, SC

      I haven't read any books by Ross Thomas but love a thriller so appreciate the heads up

    • CCGAL profile image


      7 years ago

      I have never read anything by Ross Thomas, but after the excerpts you've included here, I believe I am going to seek out his work and read it. I'll start with Missionary Stew - my husband would really enjoy that, I think. Thank you for a great introduction to a grand author!

    • Ann Hinds profile image

      Ann Hinds 

      7 years ago from So Cal

      Haven't heard of Ross Thomas but am looking for new authors so he has been added to my list. Thanks

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Ross Thomas is a new author to me. Thank you for telling us about him.

    • Ramkitten2000 profile image

      Deb Kingsbury 

      7 years ago from Flagstaff, Arizona

      This is a new one for me, although he does LOOK very familiar. Excellent reviews. *Blessed*

    • Hedremp profile image

      Sandra Wilson 

      7 years ago from Wilson Education Resource Centre

      I haven't heard of Ross Thomas before - he seems to have an interesting subject base for his stories - thanks for introducing him!

    • mbgphoto profile image

      Mary Beth Granger 

      7 years ago from O'Fallon, Missouri, USA

      Blessings on this lens.

    • mbgphoto profile image

      Mary Beth Granger 

      7 years ago from O'Fallon, Missouri, USA

      Great reviews...looks like an author I'll need to try.

    • TonyPayne profile image

      Tony Payne 

      7 years ago from Southampton, UK

      I think I might enjoy reading Ross Thomas's books. I hadn't heard of him before though. Truth is I never really get time to read these days, I spend half my life on the internet. Excellent reviews and introduction to this author, a blessing is well deserved.

    • natashaely profile image


      7 years ago

      These reviews are personal and convey what the story is about! I think these are excellent additions to my library!

    • sidther lm profile image

      sidther lm 

      7 years ago

      I have not read Ross Thomas yet but I think I will in the near future! The quotes you chose make me want to see more!

    • viscri8 profile image


      7 years ago

      Didn't yet -- should do soon. Ross Thomas must be a great read! I like good crime stories -- in South Africa reading crime stories is so much better than the real thing.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      A very good review that makes me want to pick up a book to read. I haven't read anything by Ross Thomas yet, but that is going to change, I do like reading good crime stories. ~ Thanks!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Concise and enticing reviews. I haven't read any of Ross Thomas' novels, but these reviews peaks my interest. I like that you mentioned that the vicar etc. could read these novels without worrying about graphic sex scenes and gore.

    • Vikk Simmons profile image

      'Vikk Simmons 

      8 years ago from Houston

      Enjoyed the review and it's a nice model for reviews in general.


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