Thursday, February 24, 2005

Book: Chinaman’s Chance, by Ross Thomas (1978)

It’s Bleeck Midwinter month over on Rara Avis, the hardboiled fiction list, which means we’re reading Ross Thomas. Bleeck because he published several novels under the pseudonym Oliver Bleeck. (The midwinter part has me at a loss, because it hit 65 degrees in Seattle today. Everybody with a convertible was out on the road.)

Several years ago I chanced on Thomas’ final novel AH, TREACHERY! When I read it, I felt as if I were home. Thomas had a jaundiced take on the world, forged by stints in journalism, politics, and possibly espionage. Nobody knows for sure. At the same time, he wrote with a light touch, brimming with good humor and a faith that more often than not, the right bunch of rogues would win out.

The next Thomas I read was an early effort. THE SEERSUCKER WHIPSAW – even his titles are great – was based on his experiences running an election campaign in Africa. I was hooked. But sadly, Thomas was out of print. In the years since his death in 1995, he’d gone from critics’ favorite to forgotten man.

When St. Martin’s Press began reissuing his work, I knew I’d be out a good chunk of change. And I didn’t care.

CHANCE is the latest reprint, and one of Thomas’ more popular books because it introduces his recurring con men Artie Wu, last of the Manchus, and Quincy Durant. The typically corkscrew plot involves a missing folk singer, two million dollars stolen from the U.S. embassy during the fall of Saigon, a dead Congressman, and a Southern California town ripe for the picking.

No one writes Establishment types better than Thomas. Political operatives, corporate bigwigs, CIA officers. They’re all here, and interacting with low-level gangsters. I know it’s a cliché, but I’ve got to say it: I’d love to see what hay Thomas would make of our current political situation. We could use a man like him long about now.

Bill Denton, who runs Rara Avis, steered me toward this great overview of Thomas’ career by novelist/blogger Roger L. Simon.

Miscellaneous: Links

GreenCine Daily’s David Hudson, back on the beat now that the Berlinale is over, pointed out this review of the “director’s cut” of Theodore Roszak’s spellbinding novel FLICKER. I read the original version years ago and never forgot it. A film adaptation – especially one written by Jim Uhls (FIGHT CLUB) and directed by Darren Aronofsky – looms as a terrifying proposition.

Elsewhere, Emmanuel Levy watches all 76 Best Picture winners and finds many of them wanting. And Lisa Lutz devoted the best years of her life to a Mafia farce only to have it debut on September 11, 2001. Trust me, the article is worth getting the Salon day pass. Sitting through the ad’s not gonna kill ya.