Wednesday 24 August 2011

Ross Thomas The Fools In Town Are On Our Side

Fools is one of Thomas's most savage novels. Bleak and violent, with little of the customary humour as leavening, it is perhaps his most powerful. It tells the tale of Lucifer Dye through three stages of his life. The latest stage is an ambitious plan to disrupt the power élite of a corrupt city with a view to gaining political control and the story is told with flashbacks to earlier days.

As with many of Thomas's heroes a spell in a foul prison (cf Missionary Stew) marks a change in the life of Dye, bringing to an end the second stage of his life as a spy for the clandestine Section 2 (smaller and nastier than the CIA). This frees him up for a proposition from Victor Orcutt, legal genius and mannered fop - a few months of double-dealing in Swankerton, where the only officials not on the take are those being blackmailed for various horrible crimes.

So begins a masterly tale of double and triple crosses, backstabbing and just sheer glorious mayhem. Thomas brings in a cast of Swankerton villains that rivals anything comparable for vileness and cupidity, then escalates the action to fire Mafiosi amd other major players into the mix. The violence mounts to a point that would have Tarantino humping a chair leg - the question becomes will Dye and associates escape with their lives, let alone their souls.

Rewinding, I mentioned three stages of Dye's life: the first is his childhood. Taken to Singapore by a widowed and quite mad father, orphaned and adopted by Tante Katherine, Russian brothel keeper, captured by the invading Japanese army, all by the age of eight. This is JG Ballard on PCP, it's also some of the best writing that Thomas has done - pain wrapped in ludicrousness to the nth degree.

Overall - this book isn't for my mother and also not for those who like a less brutal work. Get past that and you'll read an excellently crafted and beautifully written novel. You'll also notice that I've not mentioned what some would regard as major events in Dye's life - true, you have some shocks in store.


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