Friday 10 December 2010

Ross Thomas: The Eighth Dwarf

"Well sir, we might have to use the dwarf."

"Dwarf!" the Colonel said, spluttering the word in spite of his resolve not to. "Did you say a dwarf?"

"Yes, sir," Baker-Blake said, still smiling, "the dwarf."

If a novel written in 1979 still reads ok in these PC times despite having a villainous, double-crossing dwarf as one of its main protagonists then it must have been skilfully written in the first place. And this being a Ross Thomas work, you can of course guarantee the expertise of the writing.

The Eighth Dwarf is mainly set in Germany not long after the Second World War. The country is in ruins, many are starving, the Allies are in power (if not necessarily in control). A cigarette- and diamond-fuelled black market is making a few villains rich and oiling the machinations of certain US agents.

Somewhere in the chaos is Kurt Oppenheiner, German Jew, ex-Communist, current assassin. He's killing war criminals now but the Stern Gang wants him in Palestine to help oust the British; the Russians want him anywhere to help kill whoever takes their fancy. The Brits and the Yanks don't like either option. His father and sister want him safely out of Germany and in the bosom of his family and have the money to hire people to help.

Coming soon to a war-torn Berlin, the Berlin Wall from the East

Enter the dwarf, and enter Minor Jackson. One's the son of a Romanian nobleman, living off his wits and his charms for women, the other is an ex-soldier with some good connections amongst OSS survivors. One will happpily lie, cheat and steal, the other is getting there. Of course, networks of Russian spies, networks of British spies, networks of US agents, all will try to find and dispose of Oppenheimer before the ostensibly good guys get there.

This is one of Thomas's darker works: he spends more time on the tragedies that have shaped and twisted people's lives and it's not a book that's destined for a happy ending. There's still the perfect pace, the great evocation of a war-ravaged country, the handling of the venalities of conquered and conquerors, but there's more sense of the pain felt by characters than in some of his novels.

Who will this appeal to? Ross Thomas fans, definitely. Fans of great spy stories and well-written thrillers, definitely. Fans of Rambo -- possibly not.

Recommended: Buy it at Amazon:


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