Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Books of 1967: Cast a Yellow Shadow by Ross Thomas

I love spy fiction and have been planning on reading more books by Ross Thomas, so I jumped at the chance to read this for the Past Offences Crime Fiction of the Year Challenge for 1967. Here is the #1967book sign-up page.

In Cast a Yellow Shadow, Mac McCorkle has settled in Washington, D.C. with his new wife, Fredl. They met in Germany where he and his friend Mike Padillo owned a bar. Before McCorkle left Germany, Padillo disappeared and was presumed dead; now he has re-appeared and brought trouble with him.

McCorkle learns about his friend Padillo's reappearance from Hardman, described here:
He was far up in the Negro numbers hierarchy, ran a thriving bookie operation, and had a crew of boosters out lifting whatever they fancied from the city's better department stores and specialty shops. He wore three- or four-hundred dollar suits and eighty-five dollar shoes and drove around town in a bronze Cadillac convertible talking to friends and acquaintances over his radio-telephone. He was a folk hero to the Negro youth in Washington and the police let him alone most of the time because he wasn't too greedy and paid his dues where it counted.
Hardman starts to tell him about Padillo. This is by far my favorite quote from the book, because it is so true:
"Well, I got me a little business over in Baltimore." He paused. I waited. I prepared for a long wait. Hardman was from Alabama or Mississippi or Georgia or one of those states where they all talk alike and where it takes a long weekend to get to the point.
I don't know if everyone in the South has that problem, but everyone in my family does.

This book is the 2nd in a short series of four books featuring this pair. Padillo at one time was a spy working for the US. A group of politicians from a South African nation want Padillo to carry out an assassination for them. When he refuses, they use the kidnapping of McCorkle's wife as leverage.

McCorkle narrates the novel. Here we have a man who may never see his wife again, and we can feel his despair while he tries to plan for a way to save her life. Yet still the novel remains light, not depressing. Padillo brings in a motley group of agents to help in the rescue effort and of course there are the usual twists and turns and double crosses.
We sat there in our stocking feet in the fancy apartment in the northwest section of Washington, D.C., the Negro, the Spanish-Estonian, the Pole, the Englishman, and the Scotch-Irish saloon-keeper, waiting for the Syrian-Hungarian woman to arrive. We sat there and drank the coffee in silence for fifteen minutes before the door chimes rang again.
McCorkle and Padillo are likable characters. McCorkle just wants to settle down. Padillo seems to want to leave the spying business but others keep pulling him back in. The pacing is good, which helps to make the implausible story seem possible.

The Cold War Swap (1966), the first in the series, won the Edgar Award for Best First Novel. That book and this one are the only Ross Thomas books I have read, so cannot testify to his skills throughout all of his books, but I have quite a few more to try. He wrote espionage fiction and political thrillers and  was the inaugural winner of the Gumshoe Lifetime Achievement Award in 2002 (posthumously). He won a second Edgar for Best Novel in 1985 for Briarpatch.

 -----------------------------

Publisher:   Mysterious Press, 1987 (orig. pub. 1967)
Length:       266 pages
Format:       Paperback
Series:        Mac McCorkle, #2
Setting:       Washington, D.C.
Genre:        Spy fiction
Source:       Purchased at Planned Parenthood book sale, 2007.

18 comments:

  1. TracyK: I read Briarpatch in 2004 and it was my 2nd Best Fiction for the year but, (sigh), I have not read more of Ross Thomas. Maybe next year.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That happens to me all the time, Bill. I had had this book on my shelves for 7 or 8 years. I hope to get to more of his books this year or next.

      Delete
  2. I have a few from him on the shelves (in the tubs), but not this one - or at least I haven't encountered it yet! That's a shame as it sounds great, though in truth I should read what I have already.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree, Col, read what you already have, and I will get to check out your reviews. I have seven more of his books and can't decide which to read next.

      Delete
  3. Thanks for sharing this, Tracy. It sounds like not just a solid spy story, but a solid set of characters too.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. And that makes for a great combination, Margot.

      Delete
  4. Been meaning to start reading Thomas (have only sampled his books as 'Oliver Bleeck') - even Julian Symons was a fan of the series I think. Thanks TracyK

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I haven't decided which book by Thomas to read next (or when), Sergio. I have the three Artie Wu novels, The Fools in Town are on Our Side, and Briarpatch. Decisions, Decisions.

      Delete
  5. Great review. I'm trying to work my way through the other Ross (Macdonald) before I read this one. I already have read everything by Harold Ross...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Richard. I have read two Ross Macdonald books in the last year and I want to read the rest of them also.

      Delete
  6. I have read nearly all the Ross Thomas books and can not praise him enough. It is hard to pick a favorite since all reach the same level of quality. I would suggest you read them in order. Thomas may have done stand-alones but he had characters appear in more than one book.
    I enjoy the Oliver Bleeck books that feature Philip St Ives who made his living as a go-between, but I prefer the Thomas books.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for that suggestion, Michael. When characters do show up in more than one book, I do like to read in order.

      Delete
  7. I just checked my notes, and I read a book by him called Chinaman's Chance back in 1988! I didn't make notes on content back then, but can summon up a vague memory of it. He was obviously a good writer, and very popular. One day I'll pick up another of his...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I am still dithering over which of his books to read next, Moira. Something I own or go looking for an earlier book?

      Delete
  8. Thanks for this one, Tracy. Sounds like a solid spy novel. I've not read anything by him yet...and I have to admit, I don't read a lot in the way of spy thrillers. I do pick them up occasionally, though, so perhaps I'll give him a try.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't know whether you would like this one, Bev, but I do recommend trying something by this author.

      Delete
  9. Tracy, I have never read Ross Thomas' spy fiction and it's something I'll be looking to correct, hopefully this year itself.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I hope you do, Prashant. I am sure you will enjoy it.

      Delete