Ross Macdonald & Ross Thomas: Noir Masters
September 16, 2017 5:15 PM   Subscribe

Ross Macdonald is now being published by the The Library of America, an accolade. The main link has an very nice article about him and his Lew Archer novels. And I fully agree that he's a fine writer. However, I want to present some reminiscences about Ross Thomas, equally as good as Macdonald but sadly overlooked. The first link from the LA Review of Books is Are the Fools in Town Still on Our Side?, which is the title of one of his best books about politics and crime and corruption and sleaziness and chicanery with wonderful dialogue and sarcastic humor.

The second link is a remembrance by Lawrence Block, no mean purveyor of crimes of nastiness himself: Remembering Ross Thomas. Block gives us a personal look into Thomas' character and life, not just the official biography (which would be enough for several people). The lunch at Lutece restaurant still makes me laugh out loud.

Sadly, he died in 1995 but I'm glad I found him early enough to have collected all his novels before they went out of print.
posted by MovableBookLady (14 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
Macdonald's intervention on Warren Zevon is an interesting story
posted by thelonius at 5:26 PM on September 16, 2017 [3 favorites]

As a wordplay note, I was mildly confused by the "LA Review of Books" in the post because it directly follows mentions of Library of America and Lew Archer. Too bad Lawrence Block's name starts one letter away, right?

(And of course, these books sound amazing, and I'm going to have to take a look and see if my library has any.)
posted by LSK at 5:57 PM on September 16, 2017

I've read a few of these, but not many. This is going to send me down a very fun reading direction, thank you.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:03 PM on September 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

I really enjoyed that Lawrence Block link.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 6:03 PM on September 16, 2017 [2 favorites]

My holy trinity of the genre is Ross Macdonald, Ross Thomas, and John D MacDonald so this thread thrills me to no end. Another great political thriller of Thomas' was Missionary Stew. And then of course there was the trilogy of books starring Artie Wu and that bastard Durant. Some of Thomas' books are OOP but are definitely worth seeking out.
posted by Ber at 6:57 PM on September 16, 2017 [2 favorites]

Ross Thomas wrote great thrillers. Chinaman's Chance is especially wonderful. So is The Eighth Dwarf. And The Seersucker Whipsaw. And also......stopping now.
posted by ALeaflikeStructure at 7:12 PM on September 16, 2017

My somewhat shamefaced favorite of Thomas' is "The Seersucker Whipsaw." It's just full of rollicking treachery and underhanded dealings and nefarious politics and a fabulous cakewalk dance at the end. I think his weakest book is "Singapore Wink." Thomas did seem to become more and more laconic as he went on, but he was always readable and surprising and funny. I re-read him regularly. OTOH Ross Macdonald, while I think of him as a good writer, he just puts me to sleep. John D. was a great favorite when I was younger but, alas, I don't think the Travis McGee books have aged well; some of his more SF-style standalones fare better.
posted by MovableBookLady at 7:12 PM on September 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

Based on this thread, the articles and comments, I just ordered The Fools in Town in paperback for my dad, and Kindle for myself.
posted by seasparrow at 8:50 PM on September 16, 2017

Nice, I just started reading Ross Macdonald (which I am enjoying so far). Though American he lived for a time in my current home town here in Canada which initially piqued my interest in him when someone lent me one of his novels.
posted by Ashwagandha at 9:42 PM on September 16, 2017

You'd really have to work to read all of John D. MacDonald, but over the last few years I’ve finished up all 25 Ross Thomas novels – including the 5 he wrote under the pen name Oliver Bleeck – and really enjoyed them. There's hardly a dud in the bunch. (Previously I only had read the three about Artie Wu, which probably are my favorites.)

Ethan Iverson, the excellent jazz pianist with The Bad Plus, wrote a long piece about Thomas – "Ah, Treachery!" – for his blog Do The M@th, saying “Thomas’s outsized passion for the mid-century American system gave his books a unique ambience, at once humorously bitter and happily jaded." The post, at the end, includes links to "More Ross Thomas on the internet."
posted by LeLiLo at 1:26 AM on September 17, 2017 [2 favorites]

LeLilo, what a wonderful piece on Thomas! It never came up when I was doing my trawl, though a few of the end links did. I'm saving it so I can check out the other links. Thanks for posting it.
posted by MovableBookLady at 11:33 AM on September 17, 2017

Back in pre-lapsarian times, the proprietors of my local book store, knowing I was precocious and cynical, handed ~10 year old me a copy of Cold War Swap. I read it in a day, and devoured everything I could get my hands on that Mr. Thomas wrote.

Though my 'to read' list is over a 1000 books long, there isn't a year that goes by that I don't re-read at least a few of his novels. (The Fools in Town. . . remains a favorite. I agree with MovableBookLady both on the excellence of The Seersucker Whipsaw and the general disappointment of The Singapore Wink.)

Indeed, I am such a fan that (a) when I was stone broke, I still spent the money to buy a very expensive copy of the rare Spies, Thumbsuckers, etc. ; (b)I have repurchased Mr. Thomas' books in several formats, including the recent reissues and on the kindle (I am fortunately no longer stone broke) both so I have them and also to hopefully encourage them to stay in print; and (c) though I quite literally have been a MeFi reader since cats got scanned, I actually registered a user name (and paid the contribution) just to contribute to this thread.

Ross Thomas is one of my few literary passions to have remained consistent since I was a child. I am always grateful to see him referenced online. I hope only that more people discover his excellence.
posted by professorbs at 7:01 AM on September 18, 2017 [3 favorites]

Holy crap can't believe this is the first I've heard of the MacDonald/Zevon thing. Kenneth Millar was a helluva writer. Excited to be reminded about Ross Thomas.
posted by aspersioncast at 2:36 PM on September 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

Holy crap can't believe this is the first I've heard of the MacDonald/Zevon thing

There's more detail in this 1981 Rolling Stone article, by the writer who asked Millar to help.
posted by thelonius at 2:48 PM on September 18, 2017

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