Monday, February 24, 2014

The Cold War Swap by Ross Thomas

Over the weekend I read a highly entertaining book by an author I had read only once before and long ago: Ross Thomas. Titled The Cold War Swap, it is Mr. Thomas's first book - written when he was 40 - and it won the 1967 Edgar Award for Best First Novel. 

It surely gets my vote. 

Most of the action takes place in Berlin - on both sides of The Wall - during the Cold War. There is an international cast of characters as befits a lively spy novel. The main fellow, Mac McCorkle, is an American saloon owner in Bonn. His business partner, Mike Padillo, is an on-again-off-again U.S. spy and when he sends out a call for help, Mac responds. All sorts of devious goings on ensue that include getting two American defectors over/under/around The Wall, agents and double agents, car chases, bombs, and lots and lots of cigarettes and bottles of Scotch.

The action moves quickly along with enough character description and local details to keep the book grounded in The Cold War and enough history to refresh my hazy memory of that era. 

Mac is quite the witty fellow and a loyal friend and not too bad a shot when needed. There are a couple of shootings - bang, bang you're dead - the cracking of a few heads, and a sucker punch or two but no torture or stomach-turning scenes that so many thrillers seem to rely on nowadays.

Mr. Thomas wrote twenty of his tongue-in-cheek, noir-ish novels between 1966 and 1994, the year before his death. He also wrote five novels under the name of Oliver Bleeck.  These concern a fellow - Phillip St. Ives - who serves as a go-between for owners of stolen goods and the thieves who stole them in the first place. 

Many years ago, when I belonged to the Mystery Guild Book Club, I ordered and read Thomas's Chinaman's Chance but don't remember anything about it. I am sorry to say that it is no longer on my shelves; a victim of one of many culls.

But, I am happy that my library has quite a nice selection of these suspense novels to choose from. Apparently, after Ross Thomas's death, his works went oh-too-quickly out of print but were recently brought back to life by St. Martin's Minotaur division that publishes mysteries, suspense, and thrillers. 

I thank you for that, St. Martin.

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