Saturday 16 April 2011

The Mordida Man by Ross Thomas (1981 Hamish Hamilton First Edition)

After yesterday's exciting – no, really – announcement about Existential Ennui being archived by the British Library, it's back to earth with a bump today, as Ross Thomas Week, Mark III trudges wearily into the weekend. Just two more posts to come in this seemingly endless series on the crime/mystery/espionage/political thriller writer, the penultimate one being the one you are reading right now, guv. And the one you are reading right now is on this book:

Namely the UK hardback first edition of The Mordida Man, published by Hamish Hamilton in 1981. The Mordida Man was either Ross Thomas's thirteenth novel or his eighteenth – depending on whether or not you count the author's five pseudonymous Oliver Bleeck books – and I have, in fact, blogged about it before. That post was on the US Simon & Schuster hardback first edition, published in the same year as the British one – a rather special copy of it, you might recall, as it was the copy used by Penguin in the UK to mark up their changes for the 1983 British paperback edition:

That was quite a find, but it does beg the question why would I then go and get myself a copy of the UK Hamilton hardback? The answer to which, I'm afraid, is a mixture of dedication to Existential Ennui and pure collector's madness.

When I began writing this latest run of posts on Ross Thomas, I had a vague notion of posting a cover gallery or two, most likely one on the Hodder & Stoughton editions of Thomas's books – which can be found here – and another on the Hamish Hamilton editions. Until, that is, I realised I didn't have a complete set of the Hamilton ones: I was, of course, missing a British first edition of The Mordida Man. Bugger. For a while there I figured I'd assemble the Hamish Hamilton cover gallery and simply substitute my Simon & Schuster copy of the book for a Hamilton one, but that just didn't sit right. So in a last minute change of plan, with Ross Thomas Week, Mark III well underway, I nabbed a copy of the Hamilton first online and pleaded with the seller – John Stoodley of Wymouth, Dorset – to send it double-quick. Which he did, decent chap that he is.

So now, as some of you may have been able to spot in the photo I posted yesterday –

worth seeing again, I think – I have a complete set of all of the Ross Thomas Hamish Hamilton first editions. Which means three things:

1) You get to read this 'ere post, for which I have no doubt you will be eternally grateful;

2) I can now properly assemble that Hamish Hamilton cover gallery – which will form the final post in Ross Thomas Week, Mark III, hopefully tomorrow; and

3) I can show both the US and UK editions of The Mordida Man side by side:

Of the two, I think I prefer Janet Halverson's dustjacket design for the American Simon & Schuster edition. David Butler's design for the UK edition is fine, but very typical of espionage-themed novels of this period; Halverson's image, on the other hand, with the surface of the United Nations building in New York peeling away to reveal a wad of $100 bills, is a more original take on the novel's themes of money and politics (which I outlined in that original post on the book).

So, one Ross Thomas post remains: that promised Hamish Hamilton first edition cover gallery, coming very soon...

Friday 15 April 2011

Ross Thomas Week (Mark III) Interruptus: Existential Ennui to be Archived by the British Library

Well then. This announcement won't come as a huge surprise to some regular – or even irregular, in every sense – readers of Existential Ennui, but I've now received official confirmation of it, and it is a thing which I feel is exciting enough to warrant its own missive. To wit:

On Tuesday a comment popped up on this post purporting to be from the British Library. The British Library, if you've been living in a cave your entire life – or indeed if you're American (joke!) – is the UK national repository of every book, newspaper, journal, magazine and play script (not to mention sundry sound recordings, drawings and whatnot) ever printed – or at least as many of them as has been humanly possible to acquire. It holds in its collection over 150 million items from all around the world.

The comment was an invitation to participate in the British Library's web archiving programme. As the comment noted, "We select and archive sites to represent aspects of UK documentary heritage and as a result, they will remain available to researchers in the future. The British Library works closely with leading UK institutions to collect and permanently preserve the UK web, and our archive can be seen at"

Now, I'll admit I was slightly sceptical about this invitation. It had, after all, come completely out of the blue, and therefore it seemed entirely feasible to me that it could merely be a mean-spirited prank or hoax. But I emailed the Permissions Officer back as requested, and sure enough received a reply in short order, the upshot of which is that, at some point (the British Library aren't able to tell me precisely when, but it should be soon), Existential Ennui will be archived on the Library's UK Web Archive, permanently accessible whatever changes there might be to hardware and software. In short, my daft blog has been deemed historically significant and will be preserved in perpetuity.

I am, I have to say, as astonished as you probably are by this turn of events. I'm guessing it's come about because of all the bibliographical information I've been posting – publication dates, cover art credits and so forth. But it was really only around mid-2010 that I started to become more thorough in my research for the various books I blog about, and probably only around April last year that Existential Ennui began to find its focus. So it's doubly astonishing that my meandering bibliographic ramblings are to be preserved for all time (well, quite a long time, anyway – and before you ask, no, Existential Ennui isn't on the British Library site just yet; I checked).

(UPDATE, 5/5/11: It is now.)

I should point out that the British Library has archived and continues to archive thousands of websites and blogs, so it's not as if mine will be the only blog on their site. Even so, considering the millions of blogs that exist, it's nice to be included and indeed to be in such relatively rarefied company. So, to celebrate this strange honour, and to tie this post in at least tangentially to Ross Thomas Week, Mark III, here's a lovely picture of all my Ross Thomas UK first editions (with a few other editions in front of them), in order of publication:

Still a couple of Thomas novels to add to that collection, and if you've been following my Ross Thomas-collecting you might be able to spot a book I haven't blogged about yet. Unsurprisingly, it's that very book that will form the basis of the next post, as we return once more to Ross Thomas Week, Mark III...

If You Can't Be Good by Ross Thomas (1974 Hamish Hamilton First Edition, Beverley le Barrow Cover)

And so this week's worth of posts on crime/espionage/political thriller author Ross Thomas rumbles on. To recap: on Monday I showcased a 1968 Hodder first edition of Thomas's second novel, The Seersucker Whipsaw, while on Tuesday I showcased a 1969 Hodder edition of his fourth novel, The Singapore Wink. Then on Wednesday I posted a review of his 1970 novel The Fools in Town Are on Our Side, and finally yesterday I presented a cover gallery of all nine of the Hodder first editions of Thomas's novels, including his pseudonymous Oliver Bleeck ones.

Today we move on from the Hodder & Stoughton editions to take a look at a Ross Thomas book published by Hamish Hamilton, the British publishing house who picked up the rights to Thomas's new novels after Hodder. As we've discussed previously, many of those Hamilton editions sport covers "designed" by one Beverley le Barrow, otherwise known as glamour photographer Beverley Goodway, who charted a rather more celebrated parallel career course as a snapper of Page 3 topless models in the Sun newspaper. But of all the Ross Thomas (and Oliver Bleeck) Hamilton first editions Beverley's cover photos appeared on – some which are quite hard to track down these days – this one proved the most elusive:

The UK first edition of If You Can't Be Good was published by Hamish Hamilton in 1974, a year after the US William Morrow first, and it was Thomas's eighth novel (eleventh in you count the Oliver Bleecks). When I was in the midst of my feverish hunt for Ross Thomas UK firsts a few months back, this Hamiltion edition of If You Can't Be Good was a right bugger to get hold of. There weren't any copies available online at all from UK-based sellers, so I had to get one from South Africa of all places (from SA Book Connection to be precise, who did me a good deal – hello, Ian!). Typically, a couple have since popped up for sale online from UK sellers, including one on AbeBooks for fifteen quid. So you can grab yourself a bargain if you're quick; the same dealer also has a selection of other Ross Thomas UK firsts for very reasonable prices indeed. (Nicholas and Helen Burrows of Coombe-Hill-Books are the sellers in question: tell 'em I sent ya.)

(An aside: I can't say this for definite, but I'm beginning to suspect all the blogging I've done on authors like Ross Thomas/Oliver Bleeck and Donald Westlake/Richard Stark is starting to raise awareness of the scarcity of some of those authors' British first editions, at least amongst a few book dealers. The flipside of that of course being whether or not I'm generating any interest in those authors by book collectors – either extant or latent. In a nutshell: by collecting these books and then writing about them, am I/Existential Ennui having an effect on whatever market – or absence thereof – there might be for these books? And furthermore, is that effect – if it indeed exists – serving either to inflate the prices of those books or causing more to come to market, thus lowering prices? Those Ross Thomas firsts on AbeBooks I've linked to above would suggest the latter, but it's an interesting notion either way...)

(UPDATE 7/7/11: almost all of those Ross Thomas firsts offered by Coombe-Hill-Books through AbeBooks have since sold. Make of that what you will...)

Those among you with reasonably long memories might recall my having blogged about If You Can't Be Good before in a Pan paperback version, which I picked up cheap when I couldn't get my mitts on a hardback. That was back when I still thought Beverley le Barrow was a woman, rather than, as he in fact is, a man. But there was no cover credit on the paperback, so I wasn't sure it was a Le Barrow effort. And if we place the two books side by side:

I'm still not entirely certain the covers are both by Beverley le Barrow (spelt, as is traditional in the Hamilton cover credits, "Beverly Lebarrow" on the hardback's dustjacket flap). The model is suitably doe-eyed and blonde in both, and the lighting is comparably flat and '70s. But there's a blue tinge to the lighting on the paperback cover, and it doesn't appear to be the same model in both. On top of that, the newspapers in the hardback picture are mocked up by the looks of it, while the ones in the paperback picture appear to be genuine.

One thing I didn't do in that previous post on If You Can't Be Good was outline the story, so let's see what the Hamilton dustjacket flap blurb has to say about it: 

Decatur Lucas was an amateur historian, but he also had a reputation for unearthing scandals which government agencies would have preferred to leave discreetly submerged. He was the perfect operator for Frank Size, the greatest muck-raking journalist even Washington has ever experienced. Size had accused Senator Ames of corruption, and the accusation had appeared to stick. But why should a millionaire accept a paltry $50,000? And, as soon as Lucas took the case, the unanswered questions began to escalate. Why should the pretty daughter of the ex-Senator be so certain that her father was innocent – and why should the attache case containing the evidence be loaded with napalm? Why should the suave Ignatius Oltighe want $5,000 before he left hurriedly for Europe? Above all, what hold did the amazing Connie Mizelle have on Ames, beyond, that is, her very obvious high-octane sex appeal? The answers were murderously simple – in the end.

Ross Thomas, in one of his most exciting books, has produced a marvellous blend of mystery and bloodshed, spiced with wit and narrated at a crackling pace.

Decatur Lucas, Frank Size, Ignatius Oltighe: gotta love those Thomas monikers. And the plot seems as complex and labyrinthine as one would expect from the author.

Anyway, next I'm taking a slight detour away from Ross Thomas Week, Mark III to make a special and rather exciting announcement – although there will still be a Ross Thomas element to the post. And you can expect that announcement later today...

Thursday 14 April 2011

A Ross Thomas and Oliver Bleeck First Edition Cover Gallery: The UK Hodder & Stoughton Novels

After yesterday's overlong essay on Ross Thomas's 1970 novel The Fools in Town Are on Our Side – brought to you as part of Ross Thomas Week, Mark III – today I've got something a little less wordy for you. The addition to my Thomas first edition collection of The Seersucker Whipsaw and The Singapore Wink means that I now have firsts of all of the British Hodder & Stoughton editions of Thomas's books, which in turn means it's time to gather them together in a cover gallery.

Publication dates are all UK, with the original American publisher/date/title-where-necessary in brackets. I'm also including the three pseudonymous Oliver Bleeck novels published by Hodder, for completeness sake, plus cover design credits and links back to relevant posts. Aren't I good to you? Oh, and there's plenty more Ross Thomas goodness to come after this (probably stretching into the weekend at this rate), the next item being another decidedly scarce UK first edition, boasting one of those magnificent Beverley le Barrow dustjackets...

But before that, on with the cover gallery!

Spy in the Vodka, Hodder & Stoughton, 1967 (original US title The Cold War Swap, William Morrow, 1966); dustjacket designed by Peter Calcott.

The Seersucker Whipsaw, Hodder & Stoughton, 1969 (US William Morrow, 1967); dustjacket designed by Baker/Broom/Edwards.

Cast a Yellow Shadow, Hodder & Stoughton, 1968 (US William Morrow, 1967); dustjacket designed by Baker/Broom/Edwards.

The Singapore Wink, Hodder & Stoughton, 1969 (US William Morrow, same year as British edition); dustjacket designed by Lawrence Ratzkin.

The Brass Go-Between by Oliver Bleeck (Ross Thomas), Hodder & Stoughton, 1970 (US William Morrow, 1969); dustjacket designed by Kaye Bellman.

The Fools in Town Are on Our Side, Hodder & Stoughton, 1970 (US William Morrow, same year as British edition); dustjacket designed by Wilson Buchanan.

The Backup Men, Hodder & Stoughton, 1971 (US William Morrow, same year as British edition); dustjacket designed by Lawrence Ratzkin.

Protocol for a Kidnapping by Oliver Bleeck (Ross Thomas), Hodder & Stoughton, 1971 (US William Morrow, same year as British edition); dustjacket designed by Lawrence Ratzkin.

The Thief Who Painted Sunlight by Oliver Bleeck (Ross Thomas), Hodder & Stoughton, 1972 (original US title The Procane Chronicle, William Morrow, same year as British edition); dustjacket designer unknown.

Wednesday 13 April 2011

Ross Thomas, The Fools in Town Are on Our Side: A Review of the Novel

Thus far in this week's worth of posts on crime/espionage/political thriller author Ross Thomas – the third such week I've dedicated to him – I've shown you a 1968 UK first edition of Thomas's second novel, The Seersucker Whipsaw, and a 1969 UK first edition of his fourth novel, The Singapore Wink (a post which now sports an intriguing comment from the British Library; I'll try and find out what that's all about as soon as I can). Today it's time for something a little more substantial, namely a review of the writer's fifth novel, 1970's The Fools in Town Are on Our Side.

I mentioned at the end of this post last week that The Fools in Town Are on Our Side is perhaps Thomas's most ambitious book – the key word there being "perhaps". I've not read every Ross Thomas novel – just six out of the twenty-five he wrote (I'm including his five pseudonymous Oliver Bleeck books there) – so I can't make any claims on being a Thomas aficionado (unlike Book Glutton). It's entirely possible some of his other novels have a greater scope than The Fools in Town, but one thing the novel does appear to be is Thomas's biggest book. My Hodder & Stoughton first edition clocks in at 383 pages – which is, in fact, exactly the same page count as the other lengthy Thomas book I own, Chinaman's Chance, except Fools is taller and so fits more words on each page.

Now, all of that might strike you as unnecessary bibliographic nerd-maths (the question "Which of Ross Thomas's novels has the greatest page count?" is unlikely to arise in Trivial Pursuit, although if it did I might be more inclined to play Trivial Pursuit), and in a way it is. But the point I'm (slowly, incrementally) edging towards is that Thomas packs a lot into Fools. It feels like an epic, much more so than any of the other Thomas novels I've read. Partly that's to do with some of the locations and historical events the story encompasses, crossing continents and time periods in a dazzlingly sweeping manner. But mostly it's the way it details the life of a single character, exploring him in great depth, delving into his background in a way I haven't yet experienced in a Ross Thomas book.

The essential thrust of the plot is straightforward enough. Lucifer Dye, disgraced former agent of US espionage outfit Section Two, is hired by genius twenty-something troubleshooter Victor Orcutt to corrupt the Texan city of Swankerton. Working alongside Lucifer are two other recruits, both from the same Midwestern town: former prostitute Carol Thackerty, with whom Dye becomes involved, and ex-chief of police Homer Necessary (who develops across the course of the story from implacable enforcer to something approaching a friend). With Orcutt directing from his Swankerton hotel suite, Lucifer weedles his way into the confidence of the unofficial mob-backed head of Swankerton, Ramsey Lynch (a.k.a. Montgomery Vicker, the brother of the man who Dye got fired from Section Two), and soon has both parties in the struggle for control of Swankerton wondering which side he's really on.

But that's only half the story. Because while the goings-on in Swankerton inform Parts Two and Three of the novel (it's divided into three parts), in Part One, chapters alternate between three or four distinct time periods, as Lucifer recounts his childhood growing up an orphan in post-Japanese invasion Shanghai – the ward of a whorehouse madam – and two key episodes as a young man and agent of Section Two in Hong Kong. It's his Shanghai boyhood that's the most arresting of these three storylines, offering the kind of deep and detailed character work that, as I say, I haven't come across in a Thomas novel before. Don't get me wrong: Thomas's characters are always fully formed (not to mention intriguingly monikered); it's just that Lucifer Dye is better explored than most. Indeed, when little Lucifer and his sort-of guardian, war correspondent Gorman Smalldane, are interned by the Japanese, what we have is a sort of miniature precursor of J. G. Ballard's Empire of the Sun.

Two events in particular shape Lucifer. The first is the death of his father, who is killed in a bomb blast in Shanghai on August 14, 1937, the second day of the Japanese attack on the city. Lucifer's low key narration during this sequence paints a horrifically plausible picture of death and destruction, reminiscent of the explosion in the Place Garnier in Graham Greene's The Quiet American:  

I found myself lying there in the street, still clutching my father's left hand. There was the hand and the wrist and part of the forearm. And that was all. I couldn't find any more of him as I wandered among the dead, trying not to step into pools of blood or on pieces of flesh. Everybody seemed dead. I walked around, still holding my father's hand so that the end of his forearm dragged in the dirt and blood. It was quiet. Almost the only sound I could hear was my own voice, speaking Mandarin, asking a man without a head, "Have you seen the rest of my father?"

The second event takes place when Lucifer is a young man. Once again he has been semi-adopted by a father figure – a recurring theme, and one I'll return to in a moment – this time by Army Colonel Elmore Gay, who has elected to guide Dye from the forces into Section Two, and whose daughter, Beverly, Lucifer marries. Beverly and Lucifer live together in a small house on the edge of the campus where Lucifer is studying prior to joining Section Two, and it's there that Beverly, now pregnant, is raped and murdered in front of a helpless Lucifer's eyes.

Beverly's death is shocking, and it understandably severs any last lingering empathic link Lucifer might have had with his fellow man. A mother who died bringing him into the world, a father killed whilst holding his hand, a wife slaughtered in the most horrendous manner; raised in a Shanghai whorehouse, confined to an internment prison cell, with a succession of well-meaning but flawed father and mother figures – whorehouse madam Tante Katerine; Smalldane; Colonel Gay; Lucifer's direct boss at Section Two, Carmingler; even, in a strange way, Orcutt: it's little wonder that Dye is emotionally stunted. It's Carmingler who puts it best, identifying the malaise that afflicts Lucifer by telling him: "you don't really believe in the importance of anything, not even yourself. If your wife had lived, you might have changed a little, but she didn't and you didn't."

And this, in the final analysis, is what the book is: a character study of a man completely lost, not so much amoral as utterly uncoupled from the human race. Lucifer believes himself to be bereft of feeling, something that his various guardians do their best to address, but which ultimately can only be undone by he himself. The machinations of the story prior to this understanding may be contorted and comedic in places, in true Ross Thomas fashion, and the expected snappy dialogue and innate sarcasm may be present and correct. (I rather liked one scene where Lucifer and a heavy, waiting for another heavy to return, stand around watching a bee. The heavy imparts that "bumblebees ain't built right for flying". Narrates Lucifer: "We pondered the mystery of it all until Shorty came back.") But there's a darker, more reflective motif underlying the convoluted plot, one which lends The Fools in Town Are on Our Side an unexpected profundity.

Anyway, that's my take on the book; Olman reached a slightly different conclusion in his review last year, so go read that for another perspective. One last thing before we move on though, something I can't recall ever having experienced before whilst reading a novel: one of the characters in Fools bears the same name as me. This Nick Jones only enters the story in the latter stages, but it was quite jarring to be reading about a character identically christened to me; I kept looking for similarities between us, even though he's a Jamaican gangster and I'm, well, not. And we certainly don't share the same nickname... (You'll just have to read the book yourself to discover what that is; I'm not sure I could get away with repeating it here.)

Next up, something a bit lighter: a first edition cover gallery, comprising the nine Ross Thomas novels published by Hodder & Stoughton in the UK...

Tuesday 12 April 2011

The Singapore Wink by Ross Thomas (1969 Hodder & Stoughton First Edition, Lawrence Ratzkin Cover)

This second UK first edition I'm showing as part of Ross Thomas Week, Mark III, isn't anywhere near as scarce as yesterday's copy of The Seersucker Whipsaw, but it does boast one of the best dustjackets ever to wrap around a Ross Thomas book – US or UK:

The Singapore Wink was published by Hodder & Stoughton in the UK in 1969, the same year as the American William Morrow first edition, and the dustjacket design on both editions is by the same man: Lawrence Ratzkin. Ratzkin designed some of Thomas's most memorable jackets: alongside The Singapore Wink he also created the covers (US and UK) for 1971's The Backup Men and for Thomas's 1971 pseudonymous Oliver Bleeck novel, Protocol for a Kidnapping.

I covered Ratzkin extensively in the posts for those two books (follow the links to find out more about him – he's a fascinating guy), so I'll limit my comments here to the jacket of The Singapore Wink itself, which is, even by Ratzkin's high standards, a fine piece of work. It has to be seen in its full glory to really appreciate it though, so here it is unfolded:

Look at that: the front and back connect up to create a whole – or rather, partial – face, one that's in the process of, of course, winking. There's also a great author pic on the back flap, which was taken by Washington, DC photographer John Burwell (hope I've got the right link there), and shows Thomas at his writing desk with one of his three Siamese cats:

The Singapore Wink was Ross Thomas's fourth novel and is, according to the Hodder dustjacket flap copy, set in Los Angeles, Washington and, unsurprisingly, Singapore. It apparently "involves the reader in a fascinating story of intrigue as an ex-Hollywood stunt man searches for another man he thought he had killed two years before. What is 'the Singapore Wink?' We won't tell you here [awww; spoilsports], but it involves blackmail, murder, a most unusual FBI agent, and the sexy daughter of a crime czar – to name but a few of the ingredients in Ross Thomas's wildest adventure yet." So now we know. Paul on Books has a pithy review of the novel right here.

The Hodder first of The Singapore Wink isn't, as I say, as valuable or scare as The Seersucker Whipsaw, but the cheapest copy I can find for sale on either AbeBooks or Amazon from the UK is getting on for forty quid. (UPDATE 14/4/11: or at least, that was the cheapest one; a copy for £24 had since popped up on AbeBooks.) I didn't pay half that much for my copy, but then I bought that one, so, er, you can't. Sorry about that.

Moving on, next I'll have a review of what I believe is Ross Thomas's biggest book, a novel which takes in multiple locations and time periods and which stars one of Thomas's most fully realised characters: 1970's The Fools in Town Are on Our Side.

Monday 11 April 2011

Ross Thomas Week, Mark III: The Seersucker Whipsaw (1968 Hodder & Stoughton First Edition)

Well, I had intended to get this latest week's worth of posts on crime/espionage/political thriller writer Ross Thomas underway over the weekend. But fate, as is its wont, rather put the mockers on that, presenting me variously with a broken down car and a buggered-up back ("events, dear boy, events"). Fun! So Ross Thomas Week, Mark III – final post in Mark I here, final post in Mark II (a.k.a. Bleeck Week) here, and a review or two of Thomas's novels here and here – is kicking off today instead – which, considering it's Monday, is probably the correct day for a week to begin anyway. Over the next few days you can expect posts on little-seen UK first editions of some of Thomas's early novels; a review of the author's biggest book; and a cover gallery – perhaps even two cover galleries. We'll see how we get on. But let's begin with this:

A UK hardback first edition of The Seersucker Whipsaw, published by Hodder & Stoughton in 1968 (originally published in the US in 1967). This is either Ross Thomas's second or third book, depending on who you believe; in the UK it was certainly his second, as the only other Thomas book mentioned either in the prelims or on the cover is the author's 1967 debut, Spy in the Vodka – which, of course, was published in the States under its original name of The Cold War Swap in 1966. On top of that, the 1968 Hodder edition of Cast a Yellow Shadow (published in 1967 in the US) lists both Spy in the Vodka and The Seersucker Whipsaw under "Books by Ross Thomas" on the half-title verso. So here in Britain, The Seersucker Whipsaw was definitely Ross Thomas's sophomore novel. (I mistakenly stated that Cast a Yellow Shadow was his second novel in both that review I linked to above and in my original post on that book. Silly sod. Pay attention next time, Jones.)

The dustjacket front flap of the Hodder edition of Seersucker confirms that too, and also gives us an inkling of what the book's all about: 

Clinton Shartelle, a Southern gentleman partial to seersucker, is the best rough-and-tumble political campaign manager in the United States. Peter Upshaw is a public relations man who searches out Shartelle and persuades him to run a very unusual campaign. The candidate is Chief Sunday Akomolo, and the office sought is the premiership of Albertia, an African colony soon to achieve independence.

In Albertia, Shartelle and Upshaw encounter a score of exotic characters and situations. Their strategy of American political 'razzmatazz' collides head-on with African cultures, and the results are grotesque, delicious, humorous, hazardous – and violent.

Hmm. Doesn't really explain what either a "seersucker" or a "whipsaw" are – I believe the former is a thin cotton fabric, while the latter presumably relates to Peter Upshaw – but it at least gives the broad strokes. The jacket on this edition – which is different to the US William Morrow one – was designed by Baker/Broom/Edwards, about whom I knew little when I originally noted in this post that they also designed the jacket for the Hodder edition of Cast a Yellow Shadow, but have since discovered – thanks to this excerpt from the September 1967 Design journal – that they worked together at the Watford School of Art, set up their own design consultancy at the start of '67, and counted among their clients BBC Publications and Beechams.

One final thing to record is that the 1968 Hodder first edition of The Seersucker Whipsaw might just be the scarcest and most valuable of all Ross Thomas's books. Sure, US first editions of his debut, The Cold War Swap, can set you back anything up to £500, but there is a relatively plentiful supply of those. The Seersucker Whipsaw, however, or at least the UK first of it, is in very short supply: at time of writing there are only five copies listed on AbeBooks from anywhere in the world, ranging from £75 to over £250; there are fewer copies of it for sale than even of Spy in the Vodka – the UK first of Cold War Swap, remember – of which AbeBooks has six copies listed. I bought my one for just over a tenner, which was an absolute steal (I shan't reveal from whom because I have no wish to embarrass the seller), and means that we all get to look at that fine photographic/collage cover, which, I believe, has never before been seen on the internet.

Next up, another UK first edition, this time of Thomas's fourth novel... at least, I think it's his fourth...