Until my mid-20s, I was an insufferable literary snob. If it weren’t serious, then it weren’t worth reading. Problem was, I wasn’t having any fun. Sure, Hemmingway was a decent read, but you couldn’t talk to chicks about him ‘cause the feminists had him down as a misogynist bastard. So I was wading through your Bronte’s and your Hardy’s, trying to get enough Sylvia Plath under my belt that I could spit something out at parties.
It sucked. Always did like Graham Greene, though, and then one day I saw a title I hadn’t read in the used book rack – The Human Factor – so I picked it up. My God, it was a spy novel! Genre fiction – whatever could I do now? Snort some Lysol to disinfect my brain? But it was fun. Then I snuck some of my old man’s Le Carre novels. Even more fun – and a gateway drug, because then one day with the same excited, trembling self-loathing that trainee junkies must feel when they take that first trip to a bad neighborhood to score their own crank, I actually walked down the Mystery aisle at the old Kroch’s & Brentano’s – the big-assed bookstore that used to be on Wabash in Chicago, and man do I miss it – and grabbed a Ross Thomas novel.
And my career as a genre slut began in earnest.
Here, finally, was flesh of my flesh, bone of my bone. Characters that talked like real people – well, OK, like real people wished they could talk. Characters that weren’t pining on the moors, considering the transcendent state of true love, but instead were scheming, conniving human beings. Books you could read instead of watching TV – that you could read because you actually enjoyed them. And damn was Thomas good. Some of the best and most memorable characters I’ve run across yet. Artie Wu and Quincy Durant, Edd “Twodees” Partain, Otherguy Overby and China Blue – the list is endless. Twisting, sure-handed plots like amusement parks without the nausea. I blew through the Thomas oeuvre like a drunk on a six-day bender.
‘Course Ross is dead now, and most of his books are out of print. But the other night after I’d just finished The Cold Dish I was looking for something to read in the tub, didn’t feel like starting something new, and Ah, Treachery! caught my eye, so I pulled it off the shelf and then ended up reading in the tub until the water turned cold and my skin shriveled up like Strom Thrumond’s nutsack. It had been a while since I’d communed with ol’ Ross, and I’d forgotten just how freakin’ GOOD he was. The downside is it leaves me feeling like I have no business behind a keyboard.
So for you youngin’s who haven’t read him, check him out on e-Bay or Amazon or your local garage sale, but check him out all the same.