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.
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 @@@@@ (5 out of 5)
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.
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.
You might also enjoy my posts:
- The 10 top espionage novels reviewed on this site;
- 20 good nonfiction books about espionage; and
- Top 10 mystery and thriller series.
If you enjoy reading history in fictional form, check out 20 most enlightening historical novels (plus dozens of runners-up). And if you’re looking for exciting historical novels, check out Top 10 historical mysteries and thrillers reviewed here (plus 100 others).
And you can always find my most popular reviews, and the most recent ones, plus a guide to this whole site, on the Home Page.