RARA-AVIS: Ross Thomas & DC

From: Moorich2@aol.com
Date: 20 Dec 2001

This is a message I attempted to post last week but to my knowledge did not appear. If it did and I repeat, my apologies.

As I have mentioned before, I am a big Ross Thomas fan. Even his weakest novels, and several are quite flawed, have characters, descriptions, or pieces of business that linger in my memory.

For example, THE MONEY HARVEST has a marvelous opening with a 93 year old advisor to presidents by the name of Crawdad Gilmore. This is a classic Washington type (think Clark Clifford) and in a handful of pages Thomas paints a vivid portrait of him. Here is a sample:

"Long ago he had discovered that there really wasn't much to be done about pain, since it refused to be ignored, other than to be polite to it--maybe offer it a toddy or two and hope that it would go back where it came from, probably next door, because he now thought of pain as some nasty, despised neighbor that time had turned into his last acquaintance."

Great stuff! Unfortunately, Thomas kills him off in the first chapter. The only consolation is the rich description of the funeral that opens the second chapter:

"The funerals of old-timers who have lusted after power, and who may even have bedded her for a while, serve a useful purpose in the District of Columbia. They provide a kind of neutral watering hole where the political animals who inhabit the Washington jungle can gather to eye each other and to mark the absence of other old-timers whose strange alarums and mad excursions once echoed through what's left of the rain forest that stretches along the banks of the Potomac. The old-timers, of course, are those who have lived in Washington for half a dozen years or so."

Going back to refresh my memory of these opening pages, it was all I could do not be suckered into reading THE MONEY HARVEST again, even though it is one of Thomas' weakest. It would be more fun to reread AH, TREACHERY again or TWILIGHT AT MAC'S PLACE.

There are certain "Washingtons" that Thomas understands and portrays better than anyone. These include the intelligence community, military (retired and active), consultants, journalists and various other official and unofficial, overlapping subsections of the establishment. Thomas was a consultant in a variety of forms including elections (foreign and domestic) and public relations/public affairs. I have worked with or passed through enough of these worlds myself to recognize the depth of his knowledge and the richness of his portrayals. He is widely thought to have had more than a passing relationship with the intelligence community. Being a consultant is a great cover, as is being a writer (see Howard Hunt and Charles McCarry).

While I consider the non-Washington novels, on average, of higher quality, I have a special love for those based in DC. I've even spent some pleasant lunch hours wandering the area where Thomas placed "Mac's Place in the McCorkle and Padillo novels. It's "a few blocks north of K Street and a little less than that west of Connecticut Avenue." So I wander up 19th Street past the power lunch restaurants and zig zag along N Street and Jefferson Place. The area, especially 19th, has changed a great deal in recent years but I still feel connection to Thomas on those strolls, especially when I spot someone who might have stepped from his pages.

Richard Moore

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