Sunday 5 December 2010

Ross Thomas: Twilight At Mac's Place

The famous bar has long ago moved from West Germany to Washington but Mac and Padillo are ready as ever to help the good guys in this tale of old spies, dead spies and old, cold spies.

Ex CIA agent Steadfast Haynes has popped his clogs, leaving behind a potentially explosive set of memoirs. Decades of action abroad would have given him more material than Wikileaks could handle so the risk for the US government, and especially for certain smug aristocrats of the secret world, is enormous. Estranged son Granville has been bequeathed the memoirs - before the body's cold the bad guys are wondering whether to kill him or bribe him (if they can't just steal the document).

Old fixer Tinker Burns turns up at the funeral and takes Granville to Mac's Place and introduces him to part-owner Padillo.

"What made Padilllo so strangely familiar to Haynes were his eyes. Not their colour, which on Haynes' private chart was coded as Gray-Green #1, but rather their look of semi-devout fatalism. This look, he believed, was acquired only by those who at some risk have peered into the human abyss and aren't at all reassured by what they've seen."

Involve Michael Padillo and you get Mac McCorkle. In Washington you also get another of Thomas's recurring characters, Howard Mott - the cynical, pragmatic but honest lawyer (a rare breed in Thomas's world). In this case you also get Mac's daughter Erika to season the mix. And we have another perfectly styled, perfectly paced thriller from Ross Thomas. (Note: I'm deliberately trying not to use the word "elegant" here -- but it's definitely apt as ever to Thomas's writing.)

Read this if you want a well-paced thriller, written intelligently but accessibly. Don't worry if you haven't read any of the other books involving Mac's Place -- a couple of Thomas's deft pen pictures and you know what you need to know about the characters.

Russian spy Anna Chapman: gratuitous attempt to sex up blog

It's a matter of deep regret that Ross Thomas died in 1995, and one reason is that he'd have enjoyed enormously the fact that the CIA has a website. Click here for their Vision, Mission and Core Values statements. No, I'm not making that up:

"Service. We put Country first and Agency before self. Quiet patriotism is our hallmark. We are dedicated to the mission, and we pride ourselves on our extraordinary responsiveness to the needs of our customers."

Even Thomas would have a problem bettering that in parody!


Book Glutton said...

I live a few blocks away from where Mac's Place is supposed to be. I've been trying to figure out the exact location but am coming to the realization that Thomas didn't use an exact spot, just a general sense of the neighborhood. I know there are legions of Sherlock Holmes fans who obsess about all the details in the books and stories - I suppose I am the lone Connecticut Avenue Irregular.

Paul said...

The lone Connecticut Avenue Irregular :) You do realise that makes you a grubby little urchin?

I can think of no memorable or praiseworthy books set in my home town (Liverpool) though we do quite well as a film location.

Paul said...

Reviewed at

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