Friday 3 December 2010

Ross Thomas: The Cold War Swap

"You can probably find a couple of thousand spots like Mac's Place in New York, Chicago or Los Angeles. They are dark and quiet with the furniture growing just a little shabby, the carpet stained to an indeterminate shade by spilled drinks and cigarette ashes, and the barman friendly and fast but tactful enough to let it ride if you walk in with someone else's wife."

This Mac's Place though is in Bad Godesberg and the Cold War is going strong. East Berlin is enemy territory and one of mine hosts is an American spy, albeit reluctantly.  Michael Padillo strongarms himself into partnership with McCorkle as a cover, much as he himself was strongarmed by the anonynous suits with Ivy League accents. Fortunately for the world of victims and novel readers, Mac and Padillo are tough as rattlesnakes and deeply disliking of the professional spies and hangers-on who try to mess up their lives.

bad godenberg
Bad Godesberg before the spies wake up

Mac, apparently by chance, encounters a man on a plane. Herr Maas, a "fat little man who carries a big fat gun", just happens to be heading  for Mac's Place to meet a man from the Jordanian embassy. Minutes after arrival two masked men burst in and kill the Jordanian. And it's downhill for Mac and Padillo from there as the local police, US agents and sundry others poke their noses in, all while Padillo is or isn't on another unwanted assignment.

There are American defectors, East Berlin goodies, East Berlin baddies, friends and dames (sometimes these two are the same person) along the way. The action is prefectly paced, the prose is elegant and  finely honed.

So, another Cold War spy novel?  Done to death? Not at all. Thomas embraces the stereotypes of the genre, the grubby but clever policeman etc, and slots them into the narrative like scenery. They form part of the circumstances but it's Mac and Padillo's actions that make the story, and a very good story it is. Fans of the genre will love this, fans of any well-written novel also.

Click for another blog's take on Cold War Swap


Nick Jones (Louis XIV, the Sun King) said...

Gracias for the link. I like the cut of your blog's jib. Just bookmarked you on mine.

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