Thursday 7 October 2010

Two by Ross Thomas: The Money Harvest and Yellow-Dog Contract

Back at the beginning of Espionage Week, all those many many, er, days ago, I mentioned I'd be posting something on an unnamed author who would be of particular interest to Book Glutton. Well, due to unforeseen circumstances (good circumstances, mind), I'm delaying the posts I intended to write, probably till next week, although they may still sneak into this weekend. We'll see. All is not lost, however, because I have two further books to showcase by that very same author, which, while not quite spy novels, are close enough as makes no difference. At least, not to me, and therefore, not to you either. What's more, they're both from the author's middle career, were published in quick succession in the mid-1970s, and boast fantastic prime examples of flared-trouser big-collar Demis Roussos Abigail's Party Cinzano-and-lemonade '70s cover design from the same photographer/designer.

The writer is Ross Thomas, the photographer/designer is Beverly Lebarrow (or possibly Beverly Le Barrow; the books spell her name one way, the internet another), and the first of the two books looks like this:

That's the UK hardback first edition of The Money Harvest, published by Hamish Hamilton in 1975 (also published in the US the same year by William Morrow), and just look at the state of that cover. Truly, that is an awesome piece of '70s dustjacket design – note the strategically placed pot plant sprouting suggestive fronds, and an almost hidden handgun resting atop the pot, barrel pointing towards nether regions. Nice. Beverly's distinctive photos also grace covers to books by Dick Francis and Herbert Kastle, and judging by these covers:

she sometimes used the same models for different cover shoots. That is the same woman, right?

As for Ross Thomas, it was Book Glutton who set me off in pursuit when he commented on this post – I'd never even heard of Thomas before that. For those who don't know, Thomas was an American author who, from 1966 to 1994, published twenty crime, espionage and political thrillers under his own name and a further five under the nom de plume Oliver Bleeck (plus one non-fiction title). He's often compared to Raymond Chandler, who's another writer I've never tried, but I'm in the midst of reading a Thomas novel at the moment (neither of the ones featured here; I'll be coming back to that one during the future raft of Ross posts) and I must have osmotically absorbed some Chandler over the years, because it feels very Chandleresque to me. There are two series within those twenty own-brand books, one featuring grifters Artie Wu and Quincy Durant, the other featuring bar owners/spies Mac McCorkle and Mike Padillo. You might want to make a note of one of those sets of names for future reference...

Thomas enthusiasts are enthusiasts in a major way; his writing seems to inspire a level of devotion that's in inverse proportion to the breadth of his popularity. Which is to say, increasingly he's something of a specialist pursuit, with many of his books out of print. Book Glutton left a bunch of Thomas-related links on that other post, the most informative of which can be found here, here and particularly here. I'll be writing some more on him once I finish the book I'm reading, but as ever I've no idea if I'll come up with anything insightful or entertaining (on past evidence, almost certainly not), so best follow those links to be on the safe side.

The Money Harvest was Ross Thomas' ninth novel under his own name, and it's actually rather pertinent to current events; it's about (illegal) financial speculation on the commodoties market, something that's been in the news again recently with wheat prices going through the roof. I nabbed it as a job lot on eBay, along with the second Ross Thomas book I have to show you today:

A UK hardback first edition of Yellow-Dog Contract, Thomas' tenth novel, published again by Hamish Hamilton, this time in 1977 (1976 in the States). Have to say, I genuinely love Beverly Lebarrow's (I'll stick to the spelling in the book) cover, which is admirably blunt and unfussy. Cool ski mask on that model; the flared jeans and Adidas trainers are the icing on the cake. The plot of this one centres on the disappearance of a union leader and the political ramifications thereof, which sounds right up my strasse. I'm glad I bagged these two Thomas UK firsts, so ta to Book Glutton for the Ross Thomas tip off, and as I say, I'll have more on him to show and tell very soon. Let's see if we can't whip up a bit of interest in him...


  1. I've never seen these UK covers before - very interesting. I hope you enjoy Ross Thomas. Just from your first post on him I have the urge to start re-reading him.

    I saved The Porkchoppers and Voodoo, Ltd. (the last Wu/Durant book) for a rainy day. I think I may grab a copy of The Money Harvest to take with me today.

    My collection of Ross Thomas/Oliver Bleeck novels is entirely made up of paperbacks. I had one nice hardcover (Twilight at Mac's Place) but I used it to give as a gift for someone we were visiting. I want it back.

  2. Wow, strange timing! I was just turned on to Ross Thomas by a bookseller in Amsterdam and I devoured the Porkchoppers. It was great. I don't see the Chandler comparison at all, though, at least not with the Porkchoppers. No flowery metaphors and none of Chandler's morality (there are no real good guys in Thomas' world as far as I can tell, no slumming knights).

    And I don't know what goes on in your neck of the woods, but that is definitely not a pot plant! Did you mean "potted plant"? :)

  3. Ah, well I'm only really going on what others have written about Thomas. Like I say, I haven't read any Chandler, although the prose and dialogue in the Thomas book I'm reading is very much in the cynical, world-weary mould.

    As for the plant: that's one of them thar British colloquialisms. We call potted plants 'pot plants', and we call pot 'weed', or 'gear', or 'grass', or 'solid', or 'ganja', or 'spliff', or 'shit'... I could go on.

  4. Thanks for the explanation. I'm surprised I've never come across that usage before because it sure could make for some great cross-continent comedy!

    I'm wondering if you aren't mixing up Ross Thomas with Ross Macdonald?

  5. Nope -- it's other folks who've made the Thomas/Chandler comparison; one of Book Glutton's links in that post does precisely that: