The Fools in Town Are on Our Side
Thomas Dunne Books, May 2003
Ross Thomas was a skilled and highly accomplished novelist and storyteller. He wrote a lot of mysteries, most excellent, Morrow originally published this one in 1971. Except for a few words and some financial stuff in which the amounts are way too low, this suspense thriller could have been written yesterday.
Thomas is able to keep us grounded in a story that moves back and forth through three separate time periods in the life of protagonist Lucifer Dye, born in Montana in December, 1933. He comes of age a few years later on the streets of Shanghai when his father is blown apart by a bomb, leaving this American boy, fluent in Chinese but not in English, holding the bloody stump of an arm with his father’s wristwatch still attached.
He is rescued by the owner and operator of Shanghai’s most prestigious sporting house, where he learns several other languages, a good deal about variant sexual tastes and the venality of most people in high places. Lucifer C. Dye goes on to experience more war as a soldier in Korea, then higher education, espionage and graft.
The core story focuses on a strange group of individuals brought together by a wealthy genius-level young man named Victor Orrcutt who makes money by corrupting already corrupt public officials in order to inflame the good citizens to revolt and throw the original thieves out of town. A most interesting concept. There is Carol Thackerty, ex-whore, Homer Necessary, ex-police chief with one brown and one blue eye, Victor and then, Lucifer Clarence Dye, man of all tools, an accomplished raconteur, cynic and wise manipulator of people and systems.
None of these central characters are the fine upstanding and highly moral individuals we’d like them to be. On the other hand, their illegal and questionable immorality are a far cry from those of their adversaries. Homer and Dye in particular throughout this fine novel manipulate their greedy and power-hungry enemies in ways that eventually lead to their defeat and destruction. But, they are the bad guys, right? So we wink and feel, at least a little, that it’s okay. Sorta.
The action moves briskly along, and this novel is excellent in all aspects. Thomas’ genius lies not only in his exceedingly strong writing and compelling characters, but in his ability to carry these separate plots in Lucifer’s life forward with interest and clarity for the reader.