Cover image of "The Cold War Swap," a novel about Cold War spies

It was the era of the Cold War, Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, John Le Carre, Don Draper’s Mad Men, and, of course, nonstop consumption of alcohol. The Berlin Wall was new, and the capitals of divided Germany — Bonn and Berlin –teemed with spies. “It was like postwar Vienna in the movies,” Ross Thomas writes in The Cold War Swap, “where Orson Welles went around muttering so low and fast you couldn’t understand what he was saying except that he was up to no good.” Swimming in this cauldron of intrigue we meet “Mac” McCorkle, veteran of World War II in the Burma Theater and now co-owner of a pub in Bonn with a shadowy, polyglot character named Mike Padillo. They’re Cold War spies.

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

Padillo, “half Estonian, half Spanish,”  speaks six languages like a native and works in some mysterious capacity for an unnamed American agency (not the CIA) that is somehow involved in espionage and possibly murder. He disappears from the pub for weeks on end on assignment in other cities throughout Europe. In The Cold War Swap, McCorkle suddenly finds himself caught up in one of Padillo’s capers behind the Berlin Wall. Need I add that danger is afoot? Some sort of prisoner swap is about to go down in East Berlin, Padillo is in the middle of it, and now so is McCorkle. As the story unfolds, everything goes wrong — of course.

The Cold War Swap by Ross Thomas ★★★★★

Welcome to the world of Ross Thomas. With a style that conjures up Raymond Chandler and Elmore Leonard alike, Thomas created unforgettable characters, wrote witty dialogue that made even the bleakest circumstances seem like fun, and crafted plots riddled with suspense that twisted and turned and surprised. He was, in short, a master.

Ross Thomas (1926-1995) wrote nineteen novels and two nonfiction books in a career that spanned nearly three decades. The Cold War Swap, published in 1966, was the first novel he wrote after a career as a PR man and political strategist. The book won an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America as Best First Novel in 1967. Thomas is unparalleled as a master of the quip and the pithy observation.

This is one of The best Russian mysteries and thrillers.

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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