What do you hope for when you pick up a mystery or thriller? A clever story built around believable conflict? Twists and turns in the plot, and surprises galore? Interesting but credible characters? A refreshing style of writing? Perhaps a dash of humor? You’ll find all that in The Singapore Wink by the late Ross Thomas, whose novels about espionage, politics, and corruption seem to display all that and more.
Not your run-of-the-mill used-car salesman
Enter Edward Cauthorne, known as Eddie. It’s late in the 1960s, and the U.S. is at war in Vietnam. Eddie, now 33 and a successful Hollywood stuntman, has left the industry and gone into partnership with a wealthy Englishman living in Los Angeles. Using the Englishman’s money, the two have opened a business to recondition and sell classic cars (“any car built prior to 1942”). Eddie is holding down the front office when a couple of thugs come in with no clear interest in cars. Instead, they want Eddie to find his long-time friend and fellow stuntman, Angelo Sacchetti. The catch is, Eddie is convinced that two years earlier he had killed Angelo when a stunt they were both involved in went horribly wrong. In Singapore. Thus opens The Singapore Wink. Shortly, the scene shifts from Los Angeles to Washington, DC, and then to Singapore, where the bulk of the action takes place.
The Singapore Wink by Ross Thomas @@@@@ (5 out of 5)
An abundance of fascinating characters
Though he may be the most interesting of the lot, Eddie’s business partner stands out in The Singapore Wink, which is full of unique characters. Now fifty-five, Richard K. E. Trippet was not only “an Anarcho-Syndicalist in theory and a registered Democrat in practice, but he was also a naturalized U.S. citizen, a top-grade fencer, a saxophone player of merit, a specialist in medieval French, and had been, at one time or another, a captain in what he described as ‘a decent regiment,’ a racing-driver mechanic, a skiing instructor and ski lodge owner (in Aspen), and finally he was still — now — a person of ‘independent means. Grandfather made it all in Malaya, you know. . . Tin mostly.'”
However, Trippet is not alone. The novel also features two retired Hollywood stuntmen, a disheveled veteran FBI agent, the head of Singapore’s part-time security service, a greedy left-wing Singapore politician and his “Dragon Lady” daughter, plus several assorted mobsters. Together, they make for a very fine mess.
The city-state of Singapore today is a beautiful and prosperous center of global trade that is characterized by world-class architecture, high-tech research facilities, and one of the world’s best-educated people. The World Bank terms the country the world’s “Easiest place to do business.” However, late in the 1960s, when the action in The Singapore Wink took place, the country had been independent of Malaysia for only two or three years, and Lee Kwan Yew, the man credited turning Singapore into an advanced nation in one generation, had yet to become Prime Minister. (That happened in 1970.) Singapore then was culturally and politically much more like other Asian nations at the time. In other words, corruption and crime flourished despite the British colonial history that had left behind a functioning legal system.
About the author
Ross Thomas died twenty years ago at the age of 69, leaving behind a body of work that included twenty-five novels and two nonfiction books. Twice he won the Edgar Award for Best Novel.
For additional reading
I’ve listed and linked my reviews of all the Ross Thomas novels I’ve read here: Reviewing Ross Thomas – thrillers that stand the test of time.
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- The 10 top espionage novels reviewed on this site;
- 20 good nonfiction books about espionage; and
- Top 10 mystery and thriller series.
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