Monday, January 03, 2005

Book: The Fourth Durango, by Ross Thomas (1989)

I’m slowly making my way through the St. Martin’s Press reissues of Thomas’ work. They’re an absolute joy. Funny, clear-eyed, written with tremendous style. DURANGO is about a former state supreme court justice recently released from prison who hightails it to the title California town, a godforsaken burg that covers its municipal debts by hiring itself out as a safe haven. It may not rank among Thomas’ best, but still stands head and shoulders above most contemporary thrillers. Here’s why. Allow me to introduce Durango resident Merriman Dorr:

Dorr was a fairly recent immigrant from Florida who claimed to have taught geography at the University of Arkansas, flown as co-pilot for something called Trans-Caribbean Air Freight and, before all that, played two seasons at second base for the Savannah Indians in the double-A Southern League.

“Not long after Dorr materialized in Durango, the ever dubious (police chief) Sid Fork made a series of long distance phone calls and discovered Dorr had done everything he claimed and more. The more included being held without bail for three months in the West Palm Beach jail on a vaguely worded fraud charge

In any other book, Merriman Dorr would be the hero. In Thomas’ world, he’s merely a supporting player. Dorr offers the use of his roadhouse – sorry, supper club – and his airplane, then vacates the stage. That richness of detail is a Thomas trademark.