Wednesday, March 21, 2012

16. The Eighth Dwarf by Ross Thomas

The more Ross Thomas books I read, the more I realize that the first book of his that I read, the Porkchoppers, is an anomaly.  It's fairly serious and straightforward and while there is a large cast of characters, it really focuses on one man.  My sense is that Thomas' usual style is a blend of tough crime and espionage with an undercurrent of dark humour, all pushed forward by a rich ensemble cast of characters who are either unique in their own right or the result of various crazy historical situations.

The Eighth Dwarf is the story of the early days of post-WWII espionage, as a group of people converge on Berlin searching for a rogue assassin who is taking out hidden ex-Nazis.  The main protagonist is Minor Jackson, an ex-OSS hotshot turned slacker turned (quite passively) spy/independent operator.  He is a bit of an empty construct, though, as it is Nicola Polescu, the charming, clever, sophisticated and untrustworthy dwarf who brings him into the game who is the real mover and shaker in the book.

Nick and Minor are hired by a German Jew in Mexico, the father of the rogue assassin, to find him and bring him back.  The Russians, the Brits and the US also want the assassin, all for their own reasons, and they all send their various representatives to war torn Germany to participate in the party.

It's a fun, lively read.  Ross Thomas writes books that are fun to read, as there is always something going on or an interesting character doing something cool.  The portrayal of 1946 Berlin is great as well, not too in-depth but full of black market basement restaurants, ruined hideouts, gangs of polish DPs (displaced persons), prostitutes wearing nothing but fur coats and more, all put together make for a really intriguing, adventuresome milieu.

I found the 1988 Mysterious Press edition, which has a nifty, though more symbolic than representational, cover.  Interestingly, there are quotes about Thomas from both John D. MacDonald and Eric AmblerIt stands out and I'll keep it, but I would probably be as ruthless as "the wicked dwarf" if it would help me to get my hands on this British version as discovered (and researched) by Louis XIV of the great Existential Ennui book blog.


Nick Jones (Louis XIV, the Sun King) said...

Merci beaucoup for the link, mon frere. Looks like we reached similar conclusions re Minor Jackson: Ploscaru is a much more interesting creation. What did Ambler have to say about Thomas? Not sure I've seen that quote.

OlmanFeelyus said...

Not all that exciting of an actual quote, just interesting that Ambler was reading stuff this late into his life.

"Exciting, amusing, knowledgeable [and] beautifully written." -Eric Ambler

I wanted to write a bit more about Minor's character. I think he is sort of a proxy for the reader. He is just along for the ride, quite passive, but maintains a cool, ironic detachment that gives him an edge over everybody else. It's a position the reader wants to be in as well during such an adventure, perhaps. Also, I suspect, he reflects Thomas' own wry detached vision of a world run by big spy agencies, military bureaucracies and governments.