ROSS THOMAS —
An Author Profile by BARRY GARDNER:
Ross Thomas to me succeeds on every level as a writer of fiction. His plots are intriguing, complex without being bewildering; his prose is smooth, seamless and unobtrusive; his dialogue fits his characters like a made-to-measure suit; but his strongest suite is characterization. I have yet to read a Thomas book without the feeling that here was a person, usually a group of people, that I would like to meet again.
For better or worse, I have had that pleasure relatively seldom, for with the exception of eleven books featuring three different sets of characters (see list below), Thomas has chosen to eschew the series character. Eleven out of twenty-three might not seem all that much like eschewing, but except for two they were written over fourteen years ago. Perhaps he is wise; none of the sequels have quite measured up to the originals, in my eyes.
Thomas has won two Edgars: for Best First Novel with The Cold War Swap in 1966, and nearly 20 years later for Best Novel with Briarpatch in 1984. Many people, though, consider Chinaman’s Chance his best novel; certainly it’s the book that finally began to gain him the major recognition he so richly deserved.
My own favorite of Thomas’s books is The Fools in Town Are on Our Side. It is really two stories, the first of a man who doesn’t care about anything and how he came to that condition, the second the story of cleanup-by-further-corruption of a town. Comparisons to Hammett’s Red Harvest are inevitable, at least partially apt, and have been made; nevertheless the two books bear little resemblance but for that partially shared theme.
He may have created his most numerous set of memorable characters here, and that is high praise indeed. To me, this is the quintessential Ross Thomas novel.
My choice for second-best is The Seersucker Whipsaw. The character of Quentin Sharlene is unforgettable, and the story of an African coup is both entertaining and riveting from beginning to end. Almost every character is a major or minor masterpiece. The treatment of the African milieu was exceptional, I think, for 1967.
His next, due out possibly by the time this sees print, is reported to be a third in the Durant-Wu series; but that’s immaterial — as long as there is a next.
– Reprinted from Fireman, Fireman, Save My Books #3, September 1992.
The Mac McCorkle-Michael Padillo series –
1. The Cold War Swap (1966)
2. Cast a Yellow Shadow (1967)
3. The Backup Men (1971)
4. Twilight at Mac’s Place (1990)
The Philip St. Ives series (as by Oliver Bleeck) —
1. The Brass Go-Between (1969)
2. The Procane Chronicle (1971)
3. Protocol for a Kidnapping (1971)
4. The Highbinders (1974)
5. No Questions Asked (1976)
The Quincy Durant-Artie Wu series –
1. Chinaman’s Chance (1978)
2. Out On the Rim (1987)
3. Voodoo, Ltd. (1992)
Other novels –
The Seersucker Whipsaw (1967)
The Singapore Wink (1969)
The Fools in Town Are On Our Side (1970)
The Porkchoppers (1972)
If You Can’t Be Good (1973)
The Money Harvest (1975)
Yellow Dog Contract (1976)
The Eighth Dwarf (1979)
The Mordida Man (1981)
Missionary Stew (1983)
The Fourth Durango (1989)
Ah, Treachery! (1994)
Editorial Comment: Voodoo, Ltd. was the book that Barry was referring in his last paragraph. Ah, Treachery! was Ross Thomas’s final book, and was also not included in the bibliography Barry prepared for this profile when it was first published.