Ross Thomas (1926-95) wrote twenty-five novels between 1966 and 1994, five of them under the pseudonym Oliver Bleeck. Thus, he turned to writing fiction only at the age of forty after a career in journalism, public relations, and politics both in the United States and overseas. He reportedly wrote his debut novel, The Cold War Swap, in just six weeks. The book won the Edgar Award for Best First Novel in 1967, launching his three-decade career as a novelist. I’m grateful for all the man’s work, because reviewing Ross Thomas is a genuine pleasure.
That first novel, like some of his later work, involves American spies. There are those who suspect that Thomas himself had had a relationship with a certain three-letter US intelligence agency.
Thomas’ writing is distinguished by clever, fast-moving dialogue; complex plotting that never fails to surprise; and a generous helping of sardonic humor. In 2002 he was honored with the inaugural Gumshoe Lifetime Achievement Award from the Mystery Writers of America, one of only two authors to earn the award posthumously.
I’ve read and reviewed only the sixteen novels he wrote under his own name that are available for the Kindle. (A six-book set that includes paperback editions of five of the others is going for $279 on Amazon as I write. Even if I wanted to revert to reading books on paper, which I don’t, I wouldn’t go that far.)
The sixteen books I’ve reviewed are listed below in chronological order. Following the year of publication of each book is the title of my review, linked to that post.
The Cold War Swap (1966) – Making the Cold War seem like fun
Cast a Yellow Shadow (1967) – A novel about assassination that’s lots of fun
The Seersucker Whipsaw (1967) – A terrific novel for political junkies about Africa
Singapore Wink (1969) – An engaging novel of crime and espionage set in 1960s Singapore
The Fools in Town Are on Our Side (1970) – Definitely one of the 100 best mysteries of all time
The Backup Men (1971) – Skullduggery galore in this tale of competing hit men
The Porkchoppers (1972) – A brilliant and witty novel about dirty politics
Yellow Dog Contract (1976) – Dirty politics, union style
The Eighth Dwarf (1979) – Snow White wouldn’t like this dwarf
The Mordida Man (1981) – International intrigue has rarely been more fun
Missionary Stew (1983) – Cocaine, the CIA, and a Central American revolution
Briarpatch (1984) – It’s hard to beat this political thriller
Out on the Rim (1987) – Con men, a $5 million bribe, and a Philippine rebellion
The Fourth Durango (1989) – Another take on small-town skullduggery
Twilight at Mac’s Place (1990) – Corrupt spies, a hired killer, and bent politicians in this murder mystery
Ah, Treachery! (1994) – Colorful characters and lots of surprises in Ross Thomas’ final novel
For additional reading
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For an abundance of great mystery stories, go to Top 20 suspenseful detective novels (plus 200 more). And if you’re looking for exciting historical novels, check out Top 10 historical mysteries and thrillers reviewed here (plus 100 others).
And don’t miss this long article that appeared online in CrimeReads: “Ross Thomas: A Crime Reader’s Guide.”
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