RARA-AVIS: Chinaman's Chance

From: Moorich2@aol.com
Date: 15 Aug 2000

Ross Thomas is a flawed writer yet he is one of my favorites. I cannot put him in the first rank but I have to admit that I have gotten more pleasure from him than most of those I would consider technically superior.

The same flaws appear in book after book. The plots are too complicated and the characters too many. At times. he resorts to unbelievable slapdash to wind things up. And yet....

His characters are wonderfully drawn. I am currently reading for the first time VOODOO, LTD. and there is one character who only appears as a minor corpse but in very few words Thomas made him very real. VOODOO, by the way, features Wu and Durant introduced in CHINAMAN'S CHANCE.

The primary reason I love Thomas has to do with that hard to define thing called "voice." I am just a sucker for his voice. I can open one of his novels and feel entertained, stimulated, and at-home immediately.

Secondly, Thomas was a very world-wise guy and his characters are cynical in a way I understand. Thomas floated between public relations, electioneering, government work, and there are rumors (I think well-founded) of contact with/work for agencies involved in espionage. As someone who has spent the last 20 years in the same world (minus the spying), he writes of characters and circumstances I know and understand. And he has them nailed. Certainly, his portraits of Washington are dead on. I can read his books and figure within a block or two where Mac's Place is located.

So many of his novels cry out for a firm editor. Someone needed to say at times, "Ross, you can't do that" or "This ending does not work." But maybe they were charmed as I am by his virtues to the point that they ignored his flaws. Too bad, because a bit more care would have made all the difference.

CHINAMAN'S CHANCE is a very good entry point to Thomas' work. Complicated, yes, but it hangs together better than most. It is one of my favorites as is THE FOOLS IN TOWN ARE ON OUR SIDE. I have also greatly enjoyed his novels written as Oliver Bleeck about the journalist turned go-between Philip St. Ives.

Richard Moore

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